Michael Fried’s essay, ‘Some new category’: Remarks on Several Black Pollocks featured in the catalogue of Tate Liverpool’s exhibition Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots asks us to view Pollock’s work as a continuation in the trajectory of art history. Whilst the exhibition presented Pollock’s paintings from 1951-1953, this review will explore the work displayed in the exhibition in relationship to his textual interpretation.
Fried’s essay argues how at the heart of Pollock’s all-over canvases was the attempt to prise line loose from the task of figuration. Through this it can be argued that he extends a precedent set previously by Clement Greenberg, suggesting that Pollock’s work is not the product of a conveyor belt of chaotic actions, but rather, a careful continuation of the Impressionist artists. Greenberg further argues that ‘art is - amongst other things continuity…’ and in ‘…lacking the past of art and compulsion to maintain its standards of excellence…’ Modernist art ‘…would lack both substance and justification’. Greenberg argues that abstraction was to be referred back to the painting itself. This, for Greenberg, would be epitomised by Pollock’s dripping technique, as it was Greenberg who coined Pollock “Jack the Dripper”. Fried expands on Greenbergian criticism by stating how the recognition of the figure in Pollock’s Cut Out of 1948-50 is achieved through eyesight alone, and not through the possibility of touch. Through this Fried alludes to what could be argued as phenomenology. Fried’s extensive writing on Minimalism continues to think of Pollock’s work in conversation with Modernist assertions, through using Allan Kaprow’s theory of blurring the boundaries of art and life. If phenomenology prescribes the merging of perspective, offering an account of space in an existential environment which re-achieves a direct and primitive contact with the outer world, then despite Fried’s Literalist agenda in Art and Objecthood he more closely associates himself with Greenberg.
Fried’s thinking is closely linked to Number 26 (1951), which was exhibited at Tate Liverpool, where he exposes Pollock’s creation of basic shapes and forms. The painting's narrative is controlled by arching blackness in the centre left of the canvas, and this is mediated by Pollock’s use of gesture. The exposure of gesture helps to further Fried’s argument, as he explains how the black canvas has made phenomenology present by the viewer’s sense of participation, reiterated by Pollock’s openness to expose gesture. Fried, expands that Pollock’s unknown black density is orthodox to easel painting and a breakdown of conventional figurative representations.
Fried’s essay parallels the visually stimulating encounter of the spectator in the exhibition. He remarks on the exhibitions desire to expose Pollock’s use of gesture. By Fried incorporating Greenberg in his essay, he continues to theoretically engage with Pollock’s work, whilst unravelling and unearthing the complexities of Pollock to the exhibition’s audience. Fried’s essay helps to nuance Pollock’s work in relation to Minimalist assertions and to re-situate Pollock in relation to Fried’s Modernist theory. This essay helps to perpetuate a deeper understanding in the exhibition space of Pollock’s uniqueness and artistic brilliance in American Art, and not just in Abstract Expressionism.
This exhibition catalogue was kindly provided for review by Museum Bookstore. Museum Bookstore offers a huge range of exhibition catalogues, past and present. They also offer personalised shopping services for that particularly hard to find book or if you just need some inspiration for a special gift. You can purchase Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots from Museum Bookstore here.