Sharing my Birthday with Jackson Pollock

American artist Jackson Pollock was an alcoholic, manic-depressant and often an uncontrollable, angry and insecure man. However, when he painted, he found a sense of freedom and peace, a release from his anger and sadness.

The movie “Pollock ”is, in essence, Ed Harris’ labor of love. He bought the rights to the book a decade ago and ended up producing, directing and starring in the film. The film isn’t about art, nor does it try to portray an artist who was a madman and a genius; it is about giving us insight into the way art affected the artist.

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The movie follows the latter years of Pollock’s life –we see him rise to fame as a painter and we watch him struggle with life as his alcoholism, ego and violent nature wear him down slowly. Standing by him and often taking care of him is Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), who was also a painter and ended up becoming Pollock’s lover, wife, and biggest supporter. Well aware of Pollock’s conflicts, Krasner often put aside her own needs and aspirations. She recognized his talent and brilliance as an artist and wanted to see him succeed, forfeiting her own career. She balanced his erratic nature by being a strong supporter at his side.

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The movie Pollock” is a wonderful film that showcases an artist whose brilliant talent and erratic behavior paradoxically gained him fame and cost him his demise. Harris and Harden are superb in their roles.

JACKSON POLLOCK – Birthday

I am going away for a few days so I am doing some advanced posting about my favourite artists who have birthdays this month, and this is my all time favourite with whom I share a birthday.  And Happy Birthday to my son for the 30th January.

Did You Know?

Many things have been written about Pollock but there are still many things that we don’t know. Here are a few facts about the man behind the myth.

Did You Know…

Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife, changed her name. Her original name is Lenore Krassner.

Pollock’s real first name is Paul. Right around the time that he moved to New York to study with Benton in 1930, he decided to drop his first name and use his middle name of Jackson.

The only person to survive Pollock’s deadly car accident was his lover, Ruth Kligman.

One of his most famous works is Blue Poles, painted in 1952. It was created with enamel and aluminum paint with glass on a canvas.

The most important element in Pollock’s paintings is that of lines. When he first started using the method of pouring and dripping paint onto canvas, it resulted in huge areas covered with complex linear patterns that created image and form.

“Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” That was the question on the front cover of Life magazine on August 8, 1949.

His first experiment with liquid paint was at the Siquieros workshop in New York, 1936.

The French equivalent of action painting, a form of abstract expressionism associated with Pollock, is Tachisme.

Pollock was nicknamed Jack the Dripper because he literally dripped paint onto his canvas to create unique, intricate pieces.

His brother Sanford knew Jackson had a special talent. In 1941, he wrote a letter to their eldest brother Charles about Jackson. He said if Jackson could “hold himself together, his work will become of real significance. His painting is abstract, intense, evocative in quality.”

Pollock’s paintings differed from before he moved to the Hamptons and right after the move. Before moving to The Springs in East Hampton with his wife, his imagery was congested, the colors were somber, and the overall mood of his paintings was anxious and conflicted.

After the move to the country, the colors were brighter, his compositions were more open, and the imagery reflected a new responsiveness to nature.

His work Blue Poles, 1952 was originally inscribed with a ‘3’ and subsequently painted over with a ‘2’.

In 1949, Pollock decided to number his paintings, including the year they were created, instead of using descriptive titles. This began with his 1949 solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

Downward arching stretch-marks at the top edge of the canvas are common with Pollock’s works. This is because he would often hang them along a beam in his studio; another step in his creation process.

Jackson Pollock
Before Blue Poles

Jackson Pollock 'Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952' 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 Jackson Pollock ‘Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952’ enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 click to enlarge

The abstract paintings of the American artist Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) are among the highest achievements of 20th-century art. During an unparalleled period of creativity from the late 1940s to the early 50s, Pollock abandoned the conventional tools and methods of the painter, putting aside brushes, artist’s paint and traditional composition, and poured and flung house paint directly onto large canvases placed on the floor. Inspired by the work of earlier modern artists that he admired such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Pollock’s painting has had an enormous impact on contemporary art up to the present day.

Pollock’s life story is no less startling than his art. From humble beginnings in a family of Wyoming farmers, he struggled for years to overcome an apparent lack of natural talent before his rise to artistic stardom in the New York art world. Pollock’s fame – fuelled by articles in the popular press such as Life magazine which in 1949 posed the question ‘Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?’ – was followed by a slide into alcoholism and depression, and a concomitant decline in output. His death in a car accident at the age of 44 has prompted comparisons to other short-lived American icons, such as Charlie Parker and James Dean.

Within the life and work of this extraordinary artist, the National Gallery of Australia’s Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 occupies a special place. Pollock’s last monumental abstract painting, Blue Poles is the final instalment in a series of works which have changed the course of modern art. The controversy, however, that followed the work’s purchase for 1.3 million Australian dollars – a record price at the time both here and in the United States – and the subsequent claims that the work began as a drunken collaboration between Pollock and other artists, have made it difficult to see the picture through the journalistic hype. The time is ripe for a re-evaluation of Blue Poles.

The focus exhibition Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, at the Gallery from 4 October 2002 until 27 January 2003, commemorates the painting’s 50th anniversary, and explores the meaning of Blue Poles by placing it within the broader development of the artist’s work. Paintings, drawings and prints by Pollock from the Gallery’s collection will be displayed alongside a selection of his works borrowed from American and European museums. Representing key moments in the artist’s career, the exhibition will trace the evolution of Pollock’s style from the early figurative work of the 1930s to the abstract ‘drip’ paintings of the 50s, leading to a fuller understanding of the genesis of Blue Poles.

Jackson Pollock painting, Summer 1950, photo: Hans Namuth Jackson Pollock painting, Summer 1950 photo: Hans Namuth click to enlarge

The turning point in Pollock’s career was the mid-1940s. Two significant events occurred in 1945: his marriage to fellow artist Lee Krasner and their move to a house in the countryside in East Hampton. It was in the studio that they set up in the barn that Pollock first began pouring paint, either straight out of the can or with sticks and hardened brushes, directly onto a canvas placed on the floor. In an interview he justified his unusual method of painting by saying that ‘the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture’.1 Pollock felt that his painting technique reflected not only the ‘inner world’ of the unconscious but also the cultural experience of the time he was living in.2 Unexpectedly, to express these things, he felt compelled to move away from figurative art. As he remarked in 1949: ‘I try to stay away from any recognisable image; if it creeps in, I try to do away with it . . . to let the painting come through. I don’t let the image carry the painting . . . It’s extra cargo and unnecessary.’3 It was important that the meaning of the art work should not be carried by any recognisable image, as this was something extraneous to the medium of painting itself: ‘Experience of our age in terms of painting – not an illustration  of but the equivalent: concentrated, fluid.’4 To express the modern age, painting would have to be equal to that age – not to illustrate it through an image but to participate in the intensity and fluidity of modern society through the very manner in which the painting was produced.

Although Pollock rejected many of the traditional methods of artistic control over his painting, preferring to pour, dribble, fling and pool paint onto the canvas, the effect is often staggering and incredibly beautiful. In the ‘classic’ pictures of the period 1947–50, such as One: Number 31, 1950 the black, white, brown, and blue-green arcs of flung paint on unprimed canvas seem to cartwheel before the viewer’s eyes in a majestic dance of colour. Neither a nihilistic statement nor a ‘paint pot flung in the public’s face,’ Pollock used the effects of gravity, liquidity of materials, and the collisions between paint and canvas to show the viewer how oil paint behaves when it is pooled, what enamel looks like when it is thrown onto different kinds of surfaces – either dry paint, wet paint or unprimed canvas. Similarly, in his smaller scale enamel on paper works, such as Number 12, 1949 we are directly confronted by the vivid, shiny physicality of the enamel, as well as the extraordinary effects of puckering, marbling, puddling and interlacing of paint in all its raw beauty. In other words, he allowed the materials to speak their own language. As the traces of gravity, liquidity, and fortuitous occurrences appear to have taken place with a minimum intervention of the artist, the painting has what Pollock claimed it should: ‘a life of its own.’5

At the same time, as the art historian Meyer Schapiro has pointed out, dripping is one of the painterly techniques of ‘handling, processing, surfacing, which confer to the utmost degree the aspect of the freely made’.6 Pollock signalled through his liberated use of materials that he was free of constraints on his own individuality, artistic or societal. He was liberated to the extent of not entirely planning in advance what he was going to do. His works were not based on preliminary studies: ‘I don’t work from drawings, I don’t make sketches and drawings and color sketches into a final painting.’ Moreover, as he commented ‘When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of “get acquainted” period that I see what I have been about.’7 In other words, he freed himself from his own pre-conceptions of what would happen on the canvas, giving free rein to the physical body and its performance ‘in’ the painting. By working in large scale and by placing the canvas on the floor, Pollock allowed his full body movement to be engaged. We read the grand, sweeping lines of flung paint in One: Number 31, 1950 not as the result of a rationally driven, artistic ordering process but rather as evidence of the physical arc of the arm as it swings across the canvas. This focus on the physical, combined with the often-published photographs by Hans Namuth of the artist at work has been instrumental in the notion of Pollock as the ‘action painter’, an artist more concerned with the authenticity of the physical act of painting than with the measured consideration of the how the act should be performed.

detail: Jackson Pollock 'Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952' 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 detail: Jackson Pollock ‘Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952’ 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 click to enlarge

Nevertheless, as Pollock himself insisted, he did carefully orchestrate his actions in such a way as to ‘deny the accident’.8 The delicate tracings of splashed, dribbled and flowing pigment actually attest to the control that Pollock had over his materials, demonstrating that part of the artist’s intention was to exploit accident while managing his performance with extraordinary dexterity. As Frank O’Hara once wrote about Pollock’s painting:

There has never been enough said about Pollock’s draftsmanship, that amazing ability to quicken a line by thinning it, to slow it by flooding, to elaborate that simplest of elements, the line – to change, to reinvigorate, to extend, to build up an embarrassment of riches in the mass by drawing alone. 9

It is for this reason that the paintings are so compelling, because in Pollock’s work we have the feeling of order wrested out of disorder. Giving in to the nature of the materials and the forces of gravity, and giving free rein to the human desire to burst all constraints, Pollock’s paintings were able to embody a recurrent theme in contemporary America, that of modern man as ‘the helpless prey of forces both within and without himself’. At the same time, by exhibiting his technical finesse in the management of these forces, Pollock achieved a victory in the face of what could only seem impossible odds.10

Another important element of Pollock’s technique is the ‘all-over’ composition. When we look at the classic paintings and our eye roves over the surface looking for some way of making sense of the picture, we realise that it is not easy to identify discrete areas of the canvas that can be differentiated visually. As the critic Clement Greenberg argued, the all-over composition, in which the traditional distinction between figure and ground is all but obliterated, responds to a modern feeling that ‘all hierarchical distinctions have been exhausted, that no area or order of experience is either intrinsically or relatively superior to any other’.11 Rather than imposing hierarchy onto our experience of the painting, Pollock asks the viewer to choose his or her own points of interest. As Pollock insisted, the viewer ‘should not look for, but look passively – and try to receive what the painting has to offer’.12 To look for, to bring a pre-conceived idea to the painting, would interfere with the experience of being in front of the work.

Crucial to understanding the 1952 painting Blue Poles is the knowledge that it is a late work in which Pollock re-assessed his drip style in the classic pictures of 1947–50. In many respects, the approach in Blue Poles is similar to his earlier works such as One: Number 31, 1950; the painting is built up with successive layers of dripped and poured paint evenly dispersed across the canvas. However, it also differs in a number of important respects, not least of which are the strong vertical elements of the ‘poles’. As the exhibition Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles demonstrates, this departure was both a reprise of a recurrent motif in Pollock’s work and a self-conscious re-evaluation of the painting technique for which he was famous.

Decoding Jackson Pollock

An interesting article from smithsonianmag.com:

Did the Abstract Expressionist hide his name amid the swirls and torrents of a legendary 1943 mural?

  • By Henry Adams
  • Smithsonian magazine, November 2009

Jackson Pollock and James Presley’s Birthday

Well the day is nearly over and I just arrived home from work.  I wanted to look up something on Google and noticed they had one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings on their search page.  It made me think about how much I adore his paintings so I will once again wish him happy birthday and as we share the same birthday I might drink a toast to us.  From what I gather after reading about his life he craved for company all the time and when he was alone drink led to his ruin.  Well I have just moved and had to start over again and have many barriers, and I also hate to be alone, so I can understand.  Hopefully I will make friends quickly.

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The $50 Million Question

I just found this article on the Teri Horton-Jackson Pollock documentary.  Very well written.  What really interested me was the comments that followed, including one by Teri Horton.  The anti-Pollock fans all seemed so ignorant to me.  Still each to his own taste.  If you feel like a good read after you have gone through this click on this link to read the comments under the article.

New documentary Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? takes on the case of an accidental art collector versus the art-world elite

How many times do I have to read about the fact that Teri Horton, the owner of a Jackson Pollock painting with disputed authenticity, only has an eighth grade education? She may not have finished school, but there’s no way you would know that if director Harry Moses hadn’t chosen to emphasize this bit of biographical information in his new documentary Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (opening Wednesday at IFC Center), a film about a retired truck driver who has dedicated the last 14 years of her life trying to get the presumed Jackson Pollock painting she bought for five dollars authenticated. It doesn’t help that virtually every writer in the country (barring dealer and blogger Edward Winkleman) is dutifully repeating the information as though it is of great relevance to a story that actually has less to do with class in America than it does with perhaps the biggest unwitting thrift store find in history.

But this is what happens when you let marketing tell you what a movie is about rather than just watching the film and figuring it out on your own. The narrative itself is set up by Horton, whose crassness is uniquely charming. “You ain’t going to believe this shit,” she says, launching into a story about how she haggled a second-hand store owner down from eight dollars to five for a painting she intended to give to her friend. Said friend rejected the work, and upon Horton’s attempt to unload the piece at a yard sale, an art teacher suggested she hold on to it because it might be valuable. “Who the fuck is Jackson Pollock?” Horton asks, thus christening Moses’ film.

The rest of the film recounts Horton’s struggle to enlist the help of galleries who she said wouldn’t give her the time of day because of who she is. In 2000, she sent the work to the International Foundation for Art Research for authentication; they returned it with a document stating they don’t believe the painting to be a Pollock. There is no evidence implying that this has anything to do with Teri’s education or profession, but that didn’t mean she was satisfied with their decision either; Horton responded by hiring forensic scientist Peter Paul Biro to investigate the painting and enlisted the help of dealer Tod Volpe, who, in addition to having clients the likes of Joel Silver and Jack Nicholson, was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud in the 90’s.

I suppose if anyone knows about corruption in the art world, it would be Volpe, but I doubt his name is carries any weight with figures such as Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not that this matters greatly, since it seems like there is virtually nothing that could have curtailed Hoving’s arrogance, who at one point declares “[Horton] knows nothing. I’m an expert. She’s not.” In fairness, however, had he heard the same fabricated provenance (the painting’s lineage of ownership) Horton unabashedly tells the audience earlier in the movie, this would undoubtedly inform his poor behavior (not that it excuses it.) After all, Horton (left) openly admits that once it was clear that the painting’s lack of provenance was preventing her from getting her foot in the door, she began inventing a history which concludes with Pollock signing the painting with his cock. It’s a mystery, really, why the art world didn’t take the woman seriously.

The point here, though, is not why Hoving won’t consider the painting, but why, now that new research has been produced by forensic scientist Peter Paul Biro, the International Foundation for Art Research won’t revisit its original finding that the work was not done by the hand of Jackson Pollock. This proves to be a more difficult answer than I suspect the filmmakers anticipated, because for all the evidence put forth in the movie — including finger print identification, matching paint samples and compelling comparative studies of similar Pollocks (and less compelling evidence, such as famous ex-forger John Myatt’s testimony that he couldn’t produce a painting as good as that himself; this is a man noted for such laughably bad forgeries as a Giacometti drawing featuring a male head on a female body) — there are no statements made by the art world establishment.

I’m no Pollock expert myself, but I have worked at enough blue chip galleries over the years to learn a few things, and the first is that this matter is more complex than a film about “class” is ever going to be able to address. Of course, if you can’t get any of the leading authorities to speak with you on the authenticity of the painting, perhaps your moviemaking options are limited. I asked Moses about this, who told me it wasn’t for lack of trying. “We went to Eugene Thaw, who is one of the three or four top Pollock experts in the world,” the filmmaker said. “He would not give us an interview. We went to Francis O’Connor, who was right up there with Thaw.” Both men authored the four- volume Jackson Pollock catalogue raisonne (a complete inventory of the artist’s works) which means they have more first-hand knowledge of the artist’s paintings, drawings, and other ephemera than probably anyone else in the world. “They were on the board of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation,” Moses continued. “You may not know this, but they were evaluating which was a Pollock and which was not, and then they got sued so they passed it on to IFAR.”

Now, you can’t sue anyone for a wrong opinion — even if there is a fair amount of money attached to it, it is, after all, only his or her thoughts — but you can launch an antitrust suit if you believe that the organization is engaging in unethical business practice. Public court records indicate that the Pollock-Krasner Foundation has not defended a serious suit of this nature recently, (which makes sense since they have been deferring to IFAR for nearly a decade), but you can see why they’ve passed the responsibility of authentication on to an outside source and why the art world is generally so reluctant to make a statement of any kind. Of course it would appear as though the foundation is not entirely out of the business: This past February they engaged in a rather messy public affair, using the work of Richard Taylor, a scientist who identified the artist’s drippings to be fractal, to dispute the authenticity of Pollocks owned by the son (Alex Matter) of friends of the artist. I contacted Taylor for comment on Horton’s piece, but have received no response. And Mike Bidlo, an artist with an excellent reputation for imitation Pollocks, simply expressed to me his disinterest in the legal squabbles surrounding Pollock authentication.


(L-R) Teri Horton’s disputed Pollock piece (66 3/4″ x 47 5/8″) alongside David Geffen’s Jackson Pollock No. 5 (48″ X 96″), which recently sold at auction for $140 million

Moses will tell you it doesn’t matter though, because the film isn’t about art anyway. “She could have just as well taken out a patent and invented something and because of who she is, couldn’t get anybody to see it,” he said. “I mean, I’m inventing that out of whole cloth, but that’s really what the movie is about. The movie is about this little person who is taking on the system.” But this conclusion has the feel of something that came to him after he realized he wasn’t going to get the interviews he needed to do the movie he intended in the first place. You can’t fault Moses for not being able to crack the art world elite, but it has to be said that if his intention was to reach those in the establishment (which on some level it has to be, since the movie will be a landmark if IFAR reconsiders its evaluation), then it has to be done on their terms.

And I’m not sure he’s managed that. As someone who works in this field, I can tell you that all the forensic science in the world isn’t going to convince a fine art professional if he can’t come to the same conclusion based on what he sees. While it may seem a relatively minor point that throughout the movie the painting is displayed resting on an unattractive easel backed by a garish cinematic blue-gray light, I can guarantee you that the people Teri Horton, Harry Moses and Peter Paul Biro want to be taking this piece seriously don’t have anything to work with. For a film that by entertainment standards is a fine success, it will be an awful shame if the evaluation of the painting is held up because of lighting issues.

Paddy Johnson is the editor of the New York City art blog Art Fag City.

Never mind the Pollocks

She lived a life of sex, privilege and money – but all she wanted was credibility within the male-dominated art world. Stuart Jeffries on Peggy Guggenheim, millionaire collector

Peggy Guggenheim had an ugly nose. In 1920, she asked a Cincinnati surgeon to make it like the one she had read about in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, “tip-tilted like the petal of a flower”. But he botched the painful operation and, then, after stitching her up as best he could, still charged her $1,000. Guggenheim left town with one of her least welcome inheritances intact – the family potato nose.

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Jackson Pollock reportedly said that you would have to put a towel over Peggy Guggenheim’s head to have sex with her, which is a particularly vile thing to say given that she was his most ardent and committed patron. But he was one of the few heterosexual acquaintances with whom she didn’t have an affair. Despite the nose, or maybe even because of it, Peggy Guggenheim had a lurid sex life that she, her contemporaries and those who have written about her since, enjoyed embroidering. When asked by an interviewer how many husbands she had, Guggenheim replied: “Do you mean mine, or other people’s?”

Two new biographies – by Anton Gill and Laucrence Tacou-Rumney – suggest that it was our old friend, low self-esteem, that prompted this sexual voracity. The nose, the early death of her father (in 1912, copper-mining heir Ben Guggenheim bravely stepped off the sinking Titanic into the night waves), the difficulties of being a Jew in America, the leap over the ghetto walls and the headlong rush of a moneyed Yank to be part of European bohemia, all played their part. “Peggy’s most successful relationships were with animals and works of art,” writes Gill. He reports she had a large collection of Lhasa Apsos dogs whom she loved unconditionally and they, let’s hope, returned the compliment.

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So the myth that attaches to many women art collectors, from Catherine the Great onwards, crystallises: Guggenheim collected men like she collected art, only faster. Which is saying something because, in 1940 when Guggenheim was in Paris and the Nazis bearing down on the city, she was buying a picture a day. No wonder the British edition of Guggenheim’s memoirs was called Confessions of an Art Addict. But, unlike the art, she didn’t hold on to her men. When she seduced a great surrealist painter, one of her former conquests remarked: “Max Ernst is now said to be Peggy Guggenheim’s consort no 3,812.” The young Samuel Beckett, improbably, was another.

What was in it for her lovers? Guggenheim herself provided the most devastating assessment when she wrote about her first marriage to an anti-semitic brute called Laurence Vail. She had, she claimed, no beauty, no artistic talent, all she could offer him was money. And live off his wife’s money he did, in between bouts of beating her up, walking on her prostrate body and rubbing jam into her hair.

What sort of money did Guggenheim have at her disposal? Rather less than the Empress of all the Russias. At 21, she inherited $450,000 from her father’s estate. This capital, in the first few years, yielded $22,500 a year, an income that rose in later decades. That, plus the $500,000 inheritance she received on her mother’s death in 1937, enabled her to put together an extraordinary collection before Paris fell to the Germans. It consisted of several Klees, a Gris, a Léger, a Kandinsky, a Braque, as well as paintings by Miró, De Chirico and Magritte.

None the less, the Louvre thought it worthless and refused to store it during the war. But then what we now think of as the stewards of the great collections were hostile to the modern art that Guggenheim assiduously championed. For example, James Bolivar Manson, then director of the Tate Gallery in London, dismissed some modernist sculptures that she wanted to be shown in London, saying that they were “not-art”. As a result of his intervention, British customs would not let them into the country. Guggenheim later, along with Sir Herbert Read, tried and failed to set up a modern art museum in London, proof, if proof were needed, that Tate Modern has been an absurdly long time coming.

Guggenheim fled wartime France for New York, where between 1942 and 1947 she ran Art of this Century, a gallery-cum-museum in which her European collection was displayed alongside temporary shows devoted to American artists whose work she commissioned and collected. There is hardly a significant American artist of the mid-20th century who didn’t receive her patronage.

But what is the importance of Guggenheim as a collector? To Americans in particular, a great deal. American curator and art writer Gail Stavitsky argues: “Unlike Europe, America had neither royalty nor aristocracy, papacy nor civic organisations to develop collections that would eventually form the basis of publicly administered, government-funded museums.”

Yes, Peggy Guggenheim’s collection may be housed now in a Venetian palazzo, and admittedly the most important Guggenheim collection in the US is now that of her uncle Solomon, mainly housed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s building in New York. But Peggy Guggenheim is important to American art lovers: she generously donated to public museums all over the US and distributed 20 paintings by Jackson Pollock.

What is distinctive about women collectors? “Almost without exception, the significant women in this typically overwhelmingly masculine field have been rich – some very rich – and they belonged to the upper classes,” write Charlotte Gere and Marina Vaizey in their book Great Women Collectors. “They have had money; and they have had time.”

They cite among others Catherine the Great, a self-confessed glutton, whose sexual voracity, though exaggerated, and artistic acquisitiveness may have made her, to some, resemble Guggenheim with a deeper purse.

Collection after collection, made by men of the leading families and politicians of Europe, fell to her imperial might. She bought Sir Robert Walpole’s magnificent collection, for example, in 1779 when his heirs were left in debt after he built Houghton Hall in Norfolk. She was predatory and aggressive, leading Gere and Vaizey to suggest she collected like a man.

But what, if anything, is it to collect like a woman? From the Renaissance onwards, women’s collections were often by-products of homemaking. “These impulses, so distinct from men’s collecting instincts, produced the types of collection that, broadly speaking could be categorised as feminine,” write Gere and Vaizey. Porcelain, embroidery, dress and fans were all widely collected by women, but not men. Couturier Coco Chanel amassed a collection of 18th century French furniture, cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein collected African and Victorian glass.

But women historically haven’t just collected applied art; Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour may have intervened to ensure the future security of the Sèvres porcelain factory and thus promoted French decorative art, but she was also a great collector of fine art – her name is closely linked with painter François Boucher’s. He painted her portraits regularly and she commissioned or bought much of his work. Nellie Jacquemart and Josephine Bowes were both artists who worked with their husbands to build up two great collections of art (the Jacquemart-André museum in Paris and the Bowes museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham) but in each case it’s hard to see which works were acquired by the feminine and which by the masculine half of the partnership.

Equally, there’s nothing distinctively feminine about Guggenheim’s collection. Ah, sceptics might well say, there’s a reason for that – her reliance on men of taste to advise her. The suggestion is that Guggenheim was a galumphing klutz who had a showy life but little aesthetic sensibility. Guggenheim had a bad nose – could it be that she had an even worse eye? Anton Gill’s biography contends that, “the jury remains out” on that. When Guggenheim’s collection went on display at the first post-war Venice Biennale, one of the visitors was Bernard Berenson, the great historian of Renaissance art, whose writings had been her guide when she first visited Europe. Guggenheim ran up to him and said: “Oh this is the greatest moment of my life Mr Berenson – you were the first person to teach me about painting.” To which Berenson, looking dismissively around the collection, replied: “My dear, what a tragedy I wasn’t the last.”

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Berenson’s jibe, at least, wasn’t so much sexist as the remark of a man out of temper with modern art. Guggenheim was astute enough to cultivate tasteful men who were not. The French artist Marcel Duchamp became her unpaid modern art tutor and astute adviser. If not a great judge of art, then Guggenheim was clearly savvy, sensitive and humble enough to know who was. And that is, surely, a kind of artistic sensitivity.

What’s more, Guggenheim was a great collector in the sense that Gere and Vaizey define. “Collecting must, in our view, significantly alter the repute of the objects collected, not only by adding to knowledge and expanding appreciation, but perhaps even more by conferring status: the collector can make the unfashionable or ignored more central to the culture of the day.”

This is what Guggenheim did. The extent of her commissioning went beyond just what is housed in the Guggenheim in Venice. She was a woman whose commission, certainly after her return to New York, could transform the reputation of an artist. Indeed, the promise of that prestige may have been an aphrodisiac for some of her artist lovers. Without her, Pollock and other abstract expressionists might well not have got art-world status conferred on them so readily.

That said, it must have been difficult sometimes for Guggenheim to be such an indefatigable supporter of these men (and it was work by male artists that she overwhelmingly collected). One day Pollock, Duchamp and Guggenheim had a row over a canvas she had commissioned for the foyer of her East Side townhouse in New York. At 20ft wide, it proved too big for the allotted space. Duchamp proposed cutting eight inches off one end. Pollock disappeared to get drunk, wandering back later into a party at Guggenheim’s apartment and peeing into her fire.

Art world sexism followed Guggenheim wherever she trod. One day in 1940 she walked into Picasso’s Paris atelier, seeking to buy a picture. The great master ignored her for several minutes, before dismissing her with: “Madame, the lingerie department is on the second floor.”

Sex, money and rude artists – was there any more to Guggenheim’s life? Yes. A determination to commit herself to what she described as “serving the future instead of recording the past”, something which she best did with a collection of 300 works of art housed in the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice. But what is particularly distinctive about her collection is the responsibility she felt for the art and the artists she collected.

That, at least, is something that it is rather hard to imagine male collectors doing.
Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

Shozo Shimamoto

Szozo Shimamoto, was born in Osaka, Japan in 1928, he is an authoratative member of the Gutai Group, which was formed in 1954 in the Kansai region.  Other important figures included in the group were the likes of Yoshihara Jiro, Kanayama Akira, Murakami Saburo and Shiraga Kazuo.  The activities of the group helped evolve western art for sixty years.

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In 1957 the Gutai Group presented the “Gutai Stage Exhibition”, which for the first time in art history Shimamoto put together a stage like exhibition where he used a gun to fire colours.  Shimamoto also combined these activities with the audio of John Cage and the result were given to the Pompidou centre in Paris and the Museum of the City of Ashiya.  In 1993 it appeared in the Biennial in Venice witht the Gutai Group.

More of Shimamoto’s work can be viewed at The Tate Modern alongside Jackson Pollock and Lucia Fontana.