Pollock's Number 15, 1951.

A Jackson Pollock Exhibition Paints the DMA Black

A late-career retrospective rescues Jackson Pollock's art from his legend.

There is perhaps no artist who is more quintessentially American than Jackson Pollock. He invented a new, distinctively American artistic idiom: painting as free jazz. His works are wild and raving, cool and confident—freedom and chaos all whipped together. By splattering paint on canvas in complicated swirls and gestural layering, Pollock made paintings that broke all the rules of representation. They were triumphant, virile, contradictory, and violent, but at the same time sensitively considered and transcendent.

Pollock’s personal life reflected the whirling turmoil of his canvases. Prone to depression and rage, he lived hard, drank hard, and worked hard. His artistic success made him a celebrity. And he died in the most American way: a car crash in 1956, just a year after James Dean exited in the same way. And yet, however ensconced he is in the pantheon of American painter-heroes, his iconic nature has always obscured something of the man and his work.

Blind Spots, a late-career survey that opens at the Dallas Museum of Art on November 20, aims to rectify this by zeroing in on an underexplored period in Pollock’s career. As much as it refers to the work in the show, the title acknowledges that art historians have avoided aspects of Pollock’s output, notably a series of “black paintings” made in the early 1950s before Pollock’s death at the age of 44. Pollock moved away from his drip style of performance painting, creating monochromatic pieces by spewing black paint from a turkey baster. The results seem more calculated and controlled, ambiguous imagery emerging from expressive gestural marks. They were initially dismissed as indicative of the artist’s worsening depression, but returning to them almost 70 years later, they feel like the most natural evolution from the drip paintings, and no less visceral or affecting.

The DMA is lucky to be the only U.S. venue for this exhibition. When it opened at the Tate Liverpool earlier this year, it was resoundingly praised. Who knew, many critics wrote after, that an artist this iconic still possessed the power to surprise?

A version of this article appears in the November issue of D Magazine.

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