Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Most Expensive Painting in the World

We cannot say for certain who owns this painting. But we do know that it cost more money than any painting ever sold.

1. “No 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock, sold in 2006 for $140 million. Inflation-adjusted price $149.6 million.

Jackson Pollock was a major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement in the mid-twentieth century. He left a lasting imprint on art and artists, owing to the combined forces of his meteoric career, volatile personality and habitual alcoholism. The fact that Pollock died tragically young at age 44, when he crashed the convertible he was driving during a drunken binge with two women in the car, added to his myth as a bad-boy artist, forever sealing
his place among the flawed deities of art.

Pollock lit out from Cody, Wyoming, ended up in New York in 1936, got a pad in Greenwich Village, enrolled at the Art Students League and hung out with other hungry artists. His subject matter then was totemic animals and human figures, although he never was a good draftsman.

An Experimental Workshop introduced Pollock to what were at that time a novel medium called alkyd enamels, the fluid paints he later used to develop his unique "drip" technique.

With his canvases laid out on the studio floor, Pollock used stiff brushes, sticks, and even basting syringes to drip, flow, splash, squirt, flip and fling paints onto the canvas. His unique painting style is thought to be one of the origins of the term “action painting.” Time magazine later dubbed Pollock "Jack the Dripper.”

During his free-form drip period which lasted only four years (1947-51), Pollock shifted away from figurative images. He used numbered titles because numbers are neutral. Pollock wanted viewers to see his paintings for what they are, pure paint dripped onto a canvas or panel. Pollock did paintings, not pictures.

At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned drip painting. He reintroduced figurative elements into his work but the art world paid scant attention. His death was in 1956.

In 2006, news reports said that David Geffen, co-founder of Dreamworks, privately sold his Pollock “No. 5“ for a record price of $140 million, the most money ever paid for a painting.

The well-heeled buyer? At first, it was said that a Mexican-born financier, David Martinez, bought it, ostensibly to help decorate his recently purchased $54-million Manhattan penthouse. However, Martinez’s P.R. firm has denied that he is the owner. Another rumor is that the current owner is an unnamed German businessman and art collector.

Whomever! What the lucky owner got for $140 million is a classic among Pollock's drip paintings, a densely tangled thicket of brown, yellow, white, maroon and black squiggles and yarn-like skeins, unleashed onto a 4 by 8- foot sheet of fiberboard. Controlled chaos in paint.

The significance of Pollock’s drip paintings were unclear even to him. Some think his golden age marked the end of a long revolution in art started by the Impressionists a century earlier. As one observer noted, Pollock “blew traditional notions of academic skill to smithereens, and he gave abstraction an edge of danger by both confirming and undermining its credibility once and for all.”

Love it or hate it -- this is how Jackson Pollock changed painting forever -- for better or worse. The shadow of Jack the Dripper continues to looms large over art, especially in America.

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