Venice Guggenheim polishes up Pollock gems

'A project like never before' says conservator

Venice Guggenheim polishes up Pollock gems

(By Christopher Livesay) Venice, June 6 - The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is embarking on a historic scientific analysis of 11 works by the founding father of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock. "There's never been such an important project for an international artist's work in Italy," Luciano Pensabene Buemi, Guggenheim conservator, told ANSA. The works, which span 1942 to 1947, consist of 10 'oils' on canvas and one on paper, although the Wyoming native used debris, industrial enamel paint and unknown materials as well in his rejection of the painter's easel. Nail polish, for instance, is listed as a possible ingredient in 'Alchemy' (1947), one of Pollock's earliest poured paintings, the revolutionary technique that made up his most significant contribution to 20th-century art. Whether he used nail polish or other cosmetics is one of the many questions the museum hopes to answer with a scientific analysis aimed at testing how these works are standing up over time and if restoration is imminent. "Technical analysis of a painting always sheds new light on the work of an artist, on his or her intentions," said Guggenheim Director Philip Rylands, who credits the group of institutions backing the project for making it possible. Joining the Guggenheim in the endeavor are the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles and the Seattle Art Museum, as well as Italy's top restoration and research centers: the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence; the Institute of Science and Molecular Technologies, which is part of the National Research Center; and the Smaart Center in Perugia. "This project is possible because we're in Italy, where there are public entities that perform pure research," said Pensabene Buemi. For instance the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the world's leading laboratory for the restoration of Renaissance art, is known for bringing back to life Michelangelo's David, Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gate of Paradise, and currently Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi at Florence's Uffizi Gallery. It is not, however, known for restoring paintings so young. "As for me, I'm very interested in opening up the Opificio to modern and contemporary art," said Opificio Superintendent Marco Ciatti. "These are areas in which we have worked very little, but the times are changing". Unlike much of 20th-century art, Ciatti said, Renaissance works "were made to last. Restoring contemporary art will pose huge problems. But Italian institutions are among the best in the world". The analysis is slated to begin inside the Guggenheim along the Grand Canal next week thanks to a mobile laboratory known as Molab, the only one of its kind in Europe. "Visitors will be able to see us at work," said Costanza Miliani, Molab coordinator. Fittingly, Pollock himself was always more interested in the process of creation than the final product itself, hence his coining of the term "action painting" to describe his technique in which the finished work became merely an artifact of something greater, evidence of something that once took place. Peggy Guggenheim, American doyenne of the modern art world, was perhaps the most significant person in Pollock's life to catch on to his unorthodox approach. Fleeing the Nazis while living in Paris in the runup to World War II, Guggenheim returned home to New York where she discovered Pollock in the city's bubbling art scene. After the war she returned to Europe, this time with Pollocks that she showed at the 1948 Venice Biennale, thus introducing Europe to the American avant-garde, precipitating her move to Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the future home of the Guggenheim, where she lived until her death in 1979.

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