Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock is one of the few painters whose work is easily identified by people who don’t care much for modern art.
More often than not, they’ll cite him as a prime reason they don’t want to spend a sunny Saturday at MoMA with you.
In the most recent episode of Overrated, above, Edwards examines the driving force behind Pollock’s enduring fame.
(Jeffrey Tambor appeared to have a ball playing him in Ed Harris’ Pollock biopic.)
Greenberg said one glimpse of Pollock’s 1943 “Mural” was all it took to realize that “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced.”
Greenberg was interested in what he called “American-Type” painting and Pollock, with his highly physical, booze-soaked macho swagger, was a “radically American” poster boy.
He was one of the first to mention Pollock in print:
He is the first painter I know of to have got something positive from the muddiness of color that so profoundly characterizes a great deal of American painting.
His cheerleading resulted in a LIFE magazine profile, “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?,” that took a travelogue approach to the artist’s drip painting process.
Their stars rose together. Though Greenberg’s attention eventually wandered away to newer favorites, Pollock’s career owed much to his forceful early champion.
We remember the artist better than the critic because of those giant, splattered canvases—so accessible to those looking for illustrations of why they hate modern art. The critic’s art is more ephemeral, and unlikely to show up on umbrellas, tote bags, and other gift shop swag.
Those with an interest in Pollock—pro or con—would do well to follow Edwards’ suggestion to bolster their understanding of Greenberg’s taste, and his role in promoting both Pollock and his fellow Abstract Expressionists.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.