24 June 2020

Much-loved Blue poles receives state-of-the-art conservation work

| Wendy Johnson
Blue Poles

Conservator David Wise working on the National Gallery of Australia’s Blue poles (1952). Photo: Supplied.

The public will be allowed into the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to watch the painstaking conservation work on Australia’s most famous artistic acquisition, Jackson Pollock’s much-loved Blue poles, which celebrates its 70th birthday in 2022.

David Wise, the NGA’s Senior Paintings Conservator, will work in situ on Blue poles using state-of-the-art techniques to research and analyse the painting.

Blue poles has rarely been off display since the NGA officially opened. When the Gallery closed for an extended time because of COVID-19, it presented the opportunity to move forward with conservation efforts, the most significant since the painting was controversially acquired in 1973.

“It was the first time we could spend an extended amount of time exploring the materiality, conserving and cleaning the work,” NGA Director Nick Mitzevich said.

Using analytical tools such as surface microsopes, ultraviolet and infrared light, Mr Wise will uncover surprises hidden to the naked eye and find out exactly what is going on with Blue poles.

“We have never had this opportunity to work with this painting for weeks on end,” said Mr Wise.

The 70th anniversary of Blue poles coincides with the 40th anniversary of the NGA’s opening.

Last week, the NGA launched a rich living archive of content for the Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles: Action/Reaction microsite. The site explores the artist’s impact on art, music, food and fashion. It includes footage of the conservation project, an interview with the artist’s relatives, photo galleries and archival footage, podcasts and more.

Blue poles was bought in 1973 for $1.3 million, the highest price paid for a work of contemporary American art at the time. The-then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, authorised the purchase, immediately causing an outcry across the nation.

The NGA hadn’t yet opened when the painting was acquired. Senior Curator International Painting and Sculpture Lucina Ward said Australians therefore had little sense of how the building and collection would be, and how significant Blue poles would become.

“The whole idea that a large work, an abstract work, a work by an American artist should become such a key early purchase in the collection, was really quite shocking,” she said.

Today the large Blue poles abstract expressionist painting is a true treasure with Australians from across the country and visitors from around the world making the NGA a destination to see the precious work.

Visitors to the National Gallery can see conservator David Wise working on Blue poles every Wednesday from 8 July from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm. Visitor numbers will be restricted. To learn more, visit the NGA.

Original Article published by Wendy Johnson on The RiotACT.

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