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Saving Sisyphus

Thursday, August 27th - Sunday, September 20th

Reception 7-9 PM


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Dallas Museum of Art
71 1/2 in. x 35 1/16 in.

In 1947 when Jackson Pollock made his first drip painting it is said that he invited Lee Krasner into the studio and asked her if it was even a painting. His confusion stemmed not from those questions of skill or quality raised by his later detractors but from a fundamental concern about how a painting functions. Prior to those first drip paintings, a painting was understood not as a surface that supported paint but rather as an image of, or a window into, another world. We did not look at the surface of the painting but rather beyond that surface to some kind of linguistic or symbolic understanding. Paintings were OF things, not things themselves. Pollock shattered that definition with a drop of paint, creating surfaces that had to be looked at, understood in terms of their own facture and material presence.

In the decades since, another radical transformation has taken place. We no longer look at these paintings as paint on canvas. We recognize them as the image of a Pollock, seeing in them exactly the kind of linguistic summation that they were created to deny. The majority of people understand Pollock's work not through the sort of visceral physical confrontation that they were intended to demand but rather though photographs and slideshows surmounted by a historical narrative. It is rare that one has the opportunity to react to the materiality of these paintings without first 'recognizing' them. His own success has destroyed his achievement, just as Sisyphus achieved great heights only to have the boulder fall faster and with greater force downhill . Curator Alan Smithee has put together a show that removes that sense of immediate recognition, allowing even the most familiar viewers to see them as Pollock himself did, on the ground. It was Smithee's original intent to show these paintings unstretched- but legal, financial, and even moral questions precluded us from presenting them this way.

All of the paintings in the show are originals except for 'Lucifer'. To raise his concerns about the way these paintings are stretched, and thereby forced into the position of an image, he had a large scale version of 'Lucifer' printed onto canvas and stretched with an arbitrary cropping. As a second effort to resist these paintings as being seen in terms of a reductible image, the gallery, and the website, will not be documenting the exhibition with photography*, using only video to portray the works on view. These works deserve to be seen in their original context as positions of possibility and not as a visual memory from an art history quiz long ago failed or as some record breaking dollar amount that shattered analysts' expectations.