A large and very valuable piece of artwork that’s considered one of America’s most important paintings went on display Thursday in central Iowa. In 1943, Jackson Pollock painted “Mural” on a canvas eight feet high and nearly 20 feet long.
“It did change the way Americans paint pictures,” says Des Moines Art Center director Jeff Fleming. “In turn, after World War Two, it helped to change visual culture.” The style is called abstract expressionism and the painting is a blur of blue, black, white, yellow and red.
Some viewers will say it’s a jumbled mess, but Fleming says it’s a masterpiece. “There is an overall composition, in other words, there’s not a single focus here or there in the work,” Fleming says. “It’s an all over gesture, all over movement. You can tell it was made with great physical activity, very quickly. It’s gestural and energetic. It’s emotional and filled with color.”
Pollock’s parents were from southern Iowa’s Ringgold County, but the artist was born in Wyoming in 1912 and grew up in Arizona and California. Fleming says it’s those roots that lend a clue to the big painting’s origins and meaning.
“He says it was a stampede of all of the animals in the American West, from buffalo to horses to antelopes, going across the canvas,” Fleming says. “I don’t want to say, ‘Go look and find the animals,’ because that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the idea, it’s the feel, it’s the energy of perhaps that stampede that he was referring to.”
The painting, which the experts say could bring $140-million at auction, is on loan from the University of Iowa to the Des Moines Art Center through mid-July.