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The erosion of certain curatorial practices, that has occurred over the last few years across the international stage, along with the paucity within the local arena of studies into art, that propose methodological analyses instead of merely enumerating tendencies and chronologies, means the need is greater than ever for thesis exhibitions, the fruit of rigorous research that, above all, elaborate temporally transversal trajectories.
In this sense we’re fortunate because until 24 February, the Miró Foundation in Barcelona is presenting “Explosion! The legacy of Jackson Pollock”, co-produced with the Moderna Museet and curated by Magnus af Petersens, who until a few days ago was head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Moderna Museet and, since October, is the chief curator of the Whitechapel Gallery in London. In 2006, Magnus af Petersen was preparing a solo show of Paul McCarthy and while talking about some of his first works (that can also be seen in “Explosion!”) the artist commented on the influence that Jackson Pollock had had on him and, in particular, his working process. This brief reference was the point of departure for the exhibition.
It is true that Petersens hasn´t discovered dynamite and he recognises it explicitly. The subtitle of the exhibition “The legacy of Jackson Pollock” reproduces the title of the essay written in 1956 by Allan Kaprow, the same one that coined the word “happening” and contributed to the appearance of the practices of conceptual art. Petersens follows Kaprow’s diagnosis in identifying the time after World War II, as being the detonator for a need to start from scratch, to attack painting, already perceived as an exhausted process, and to explore new routes. And in this starting from scratch a few images were key in indicating a before and after: the photographs of Hans Namuth that accompanied an article about Jackson Pollock, that appeared in “Life” magazine, which showed his works, but above all, the artist in action (and never a truer word said).
The thesis of the exhibition is more than clear: to evidence the legacy of Pollock, that is to say, the artist in action, underlining the relevance of gesture and its consequences: the change in the role of the artist, a distancing with regard to “the work”, the emphasis on process and the change in role that the spectator has had to adopt. Different options and interpretations are shown along the way: the Gutai group in Japan, throwing bottles full of paint against canvases; Niki de Saint Phalle shooting paint; Jean Tinguely’s painting machines; Yves Klein dressed in black tie giving instructions to his models to carry out “live and in situ” his Anthropometries, or the same artist realizing his paintings with fire; etc. etc.
And here one of the major achievements of this exhibition is introduced, that is situating the audio-visual documents on the same level as the works, documents that, otherwise can be accessed via youtube, however, by situating them right beside the “work” (in the way we studied Art History at the University of Barcelona), they turn into a brutal “update” of these works.
Chance, instructions, choreographies or performances are issues that artists are currently working with. And this relation to the present that formed part of the exhibition when it was presented in Stockholm has been circumvented in its journey to Barcelona or it has been done with minimal brushstrokes (read video works of Janine Antoni or Tracey Moffat and Gary Hillberg, without excess complications nor requirements for their installation). And it is a real shame, because performance is present in different exhibition programmes within the city, such as Fabra i Coats or the Fundación Tàpies, but as yet has not managed to mark out a real circuit, beyond being mentioned in the different informative leaflets of these institutions.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)