Pollock's `Psychoanalytic Drawings'. Revealing works are on the market, but are they too private for exhibition?
Boston — Forty-four works on paper by Jackson Pollock, who is esteemed as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, have surfaced on the art market in Boston. Since their creation in 1939-40, the ``Psychoanalytic Drawings'' (so named because they were created during the period when Pollock underwent psychoanalysis) have aroused sporadic interest, but until now they have, astonishingly, slipped through the cracks of art history.
How, one might ask, is it possible for this major body of work to have eluded the attention of the art establishment?
The answers to this puzzle offer a fascinating look at the vagaries of the art world. The circuitous path of the drawings has all the elements of a first-rate suspense yarn, including the extraordinary product of a tormented genius, his widow's desire to guard his privacy, bureaucratic entrenchment in the face of controversy, and an impassioned dealer's desire to place great art in the public trust. This heady brew is spiced by critical questions about the drawings' relationship to Pollock's entire MDU Loeuvre, and stirred by the crucial factor of timing.
The drawings were created during an 18-month period when Pollock was convalescing from a nervous breakdown. He entered analysis with Dr. Joseph Henderson, a Jungian, who found his patient to be ``extremely unverbal.'' Hoping to better understand Pollock's muted personality, Dr. Henderson responded positively to the artist's suggestion that he bring in his drawings (a common practice in Jungian analysis) as a tool for communication. Significantly, the drawings were not created to explicate the analysis, but as part of Pollock's ongoing artistic process.
Pollock's treatment terminated when Dr. Henderson moved from New York to San Francisco in 1940. For nearly three decades the drawings lay in Dr. Henderson's files. In 1970 he sold them to the Maxwell Galleries in San Francisco, to finance a psychological research project. Then, in 1971, the drawings were exhibited on a national tour of leading museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The exhibition opened a Pandora's box of objections, including insinuations in the press that Dr. Henderson had violated the assumed trust between physician and patient. Reportedly most incensed was Lee Krasner, the artist's widow, who told Medical World News in 1971, ``I do feel there's a violation of privacy here. I just assume that anything that goes on between analyst and patient is private.''
Lee Krasner passed on last year, and the drawings, which had been sold to a San Francisco family trust, are once again on the market. Acting as their agent is Boston dealer Nina Nielsen, whose Newbury Street gallery will exhibit 44 Pollock works on paper in November and December.
Ms. Nielsen first learned of the drawings when one of her gallery artists, Sam Messer, was invited to exhibit in a young-artist-chooses-older-artist show. Aiming high, Messer chose his mentor, Jackson Pollock; but finding an available Pollock was a well-nigh impossible task. Then Messer remembered the ``Psychoanalytic Drawings,'' and when he contacted the San Francisco trust, they agreed to lend one. Furthermore, they were now looking to sell the entire collection. ``When I heard that, I immediately wen t out there,'' Nielsen recounts. ``I knew this was the chance of a lifetime.''
Nielsen is a dealer with a mission. Her goal is to place the collection, intact, with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), because ``I feel the drawings are so important to an understanding of Pollock's work, and Pollock's work is so important, that they should end up in a public collection. There they can act as a resource for artists, and for all who wish to see them.'' To that end, Nielsen is offering a 25 percent discount to collectors who agree to donate their purchase to the museum. The drawings are priced between $10,000 and $55,000, with one major gouache offered at $90,000. The combined value of the works is set at $735,000, an extremely reasonable sum, given the current inflationary art market and Pollock's stature.
Although some museum authorities still question Dr. Henderson's judgment in releasing the drawings, the nature of the drawings themselves may be partly responsible for the museum world's previous cold shoulder (they were offered to both the Whitney and the prestigious Marlborough Gallery in New York in the early '70s, which, after debating for almost a year, returned them).
Filled with realistic images of figures, heads, animals, and primitive and American Indian motifs, often metamorphosing into abstract forms, the drawings challenge the established academic view of Pollock's critically revered drip paintings of 1947-50 as exclusively abstract.
In 1945, Pollock stated, ``I choose to veil the images''; and again, in 1956, he told an interviewer, ``I'm a little representational all the time. But when you're painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge.'' If the drawings are not dismissed as the artistically wayward ``Psychoanalytic Drawings'' (which, since they were not created for the analysis, Dr. Henderson has maintained is a misnomer), they can instead be interpreted as a key factor in understanding Pollock's development -- an explanation that challenges the critical orthodoxy.
Nielsen says, ``Supposedly intelligent people have treated the famous drip paintings of 1947-50 as if they sprang from whole cloth. There's definitely a correlation between the drawings and that period. You can look at the tangled skeins of lines in the drawings, and see the clear relationship to the abstract level of the drip paintings. At the same time, the realistic images give us clues to the mythological, profoundly human consciousness that was at the foundation of all of Pollock's work.''
Theodore E. Stebbins, MFA curator of American paintings, concurs. ``They capture the moment when he matures as an artist,'' he said in an interview last week. ``All of Pollock's work is tormented, but here he puts his troubles into organized form on paper. Out of that came Abstract Expressionism, the greatest movement in American art.'' Stebbins went on to say that ``the paintings of the early '40s grew right out of these drawings, and in the drip paintings of 1947-50 there's an underlying figurative c ontent. These drawings suggest the root of those paintings. They are artistically revelatory.''
The Museum of Fine Arts now owns two Pollock paintings, the 1949 ``Number 10'' and the recently acquired ``Troubled Queen'' of 1945. Another Pollock painting has been promised to the museum, and should Nielsen prove successful in persuading collectors to purchase and donate to the MFA, the Boston museum will become a major center for Pollock study. If the work remains together as a body, and the skeletons shake out of the closet, the moniker ``Psychoanalytic Drawings'' will likely be laid to rest. At
that point, the drawings may finally be evaluated on their own merit, within the continuum of Pollock's artistic production.