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Contemplating Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31 (1950), at the Museum of Modern Art
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A GRAND TOUR
by Jerry Saltz



I remember the first time the earth moved for me at a museum. My culture-deprived, aspirational mother dragged me once a month from our northern suburb -- where the word art never came up -- to the Art Institute of Chicago. I hated it. Art seemed so old and boring and not baseball. Then one day, when I was about nine, we stumbled on a couple of small paintings. In the canvas on the left, a man’s head was stuck between the bars of a jail cell; a soldier outside the cell was raising an ax in the air. In the painting on the right, blood was spurting from the same man’s neck, and the soldier’s ax was at his side. Of course the blood and guts were cool. But something else happened. It suddenly dawned on me that these paintings were telling a story. To this day, the work that moves me most -- that sweeps me up, even to the point of rapture -- vibrates with that sense of storytelling. (The artist, I later learned, was fifteenth-century Italian master Giovanni di Paulo. You can find his sublime The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

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