Number 16

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  • Provenance

    Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
    Collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above on December 20, 1950)
    Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (gifted by the above in 1952)

  • Exhibited

    New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock, November 28 - December 16, 1950
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000, Part II, 1950-2000, September 26, 1999 - February 13, 2000
    Venice, Museo Correr, Jackson Pollock in Venice, March 23 - June 30, 2002, no. 49, p. 100 (illustrated, p. 101)

  • Literature

    Michel Tapié and Alfonso Ossorio, Jackson Pollock, exh. cat., Studio Paul Facchetti, Paris, 1952, n.p. (illustrated)
    Bryan Robertson, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1960, no. 151, p. 207 (illustrated, p. 178)
    Francis Valentine O'Connor and Eugene Victor Shaw, eds., Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, Vol. II: Paintings 1948-1955, New Haven, 1978, no. 280, p. 103 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jackson Pollock’s Number 16, 1950, is a truly exceptional work whose formal command is matched only by its unique provenance, having been acquired by Nelson A. Rockefeller and donated to the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro in 1952. Embodying the zenith of Pollock’s iconic “drip period” that he had commenced three years prior, Number 16 draws the viewer into a seemingly weightless galaxy of dripped, splashed and spattered paint. A filigree of meandering lines interweave and dance across the silver surface with the refined degree of controlled chance so characteristic of Pollock’s compositions in 1950, examples of which are housed in such prestigious museum collections including The Museum of Modern Art; New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf.

    Included in Pollock’s seminal exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950, Number 16 was created five years after Clement Greenberg proclaimed Pollock to be “the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest one to appear since Miró” (Clement Greenberg, 1945, in John O’Brien, ed., Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 2, Chicago, 2017, p. 16). Coming of age as an American artist in the post-World War II order, Pollock was anxiously seeking an art appropriate for the exigencies of modern life. His revolutionary “drip technique” fused disparate influences — ranging from techniques he learnt in the workshop of muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the late 1930s to Native American sand painting and the Surrealist notion of automatism — into a revolutionary pictorial idiom that could meet the demands of the modern age. Indeed, as Pollock stated in a radio interview in 1951, “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own techniques” (Jackson Pollock, quoted in William Wright, “Interview with Jackson Pollock", 1950, Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles, and Reviews, New York, 1999, p. 20).

    Number 16 perfectly conveys how, as Kirk Varnedoe argued, the works created in 1950 represented "the massively confident culmination of Pollock’s three-year engagement with this manner” (Kirk Varnedoe, Jackson Pollock, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 52). Having mastered the drip painting technique through works such as the present one, Pollock abruptly shifted to a new body of work, abandoning color and exploring the figurative again with his monochromatic Black Pourings, 1951-1954. The unfavorable response these new works received upon their debut ushered in a spiral of depression and drinking that would find its climax in his tragic and untimely death in 1956.

    Nelson A. Rockefeller and the creation of modern art museums in Brazil

    Zeuler R. Lima, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor
    School of Design and Visual Arts
    Washington University in St. Louis

    When Nelson A. Rockefeller donated Number 16 painted by Jackson Pollock to the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio) in January 1952, the museum was still temporarily housed in the modern, iconic Ministry of Education and Health. It would take another three years for the painting to move to MAM Rio’s permanent building, the innovative raw concrete and glass structure sitting solemnly on the Flamengo landfill park and looking at the Sugarloaf Hill on the horizon.

    Rockefeller’s relationship with Brazil had started two decades earlier through financial aid for commercial and educational programs, having also helped sponsor a celebrated exhibition of Brazilian modern architecture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1943. His activities intensified after President Harry Truman instituted his post-World War II doctrine to contain the advance of Soviet influence in Latin America and secure the commercial and political interests of the United States in the region.

    Given Rockefeller’s qualifications as a politician, entrepreneur, and trustee of MoMA, he played an enthusiastic and skillful role in Truman’s goals and in the consolidation of capitalism in Brazil. Modern art, one of Rockefeller’s passions, was a powerful symbolic instrument for negotiating the cultural insecurities of an increasingly globalized world and the formation of a middle class of selective consumers in Brazil.

    Rio de Janeiro was still the capital of the country in 1952 and Brazil was undergoing intense industrial, commercial, and urban development, branching out of its agricultural roots. The new elites of booming cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, which had until then found inspiration in European culture, looked at Rockefeller’s actions as a model of philanthropy to stimulate the modernization of Brazilian art.

    Carleton Sprague Smith, who was an expert on Brazilian and Hispanic culture working for the New York Public Library at the time and hired by Rockefeller to assist him in his South American undertaking, noted that the MoMA trustee had given the “Brazilian art situation […] a shot in the arm” (Memo by Carleton Sprague Smith, March 1, 1948, Rockefeller Family Archives, NAR Personal Documents, Folder 100, Box 17, RG 4). Smith helped mediate the first donation of fourteen major pieces authored by North-American and European artists as early as 1946 to encourage the creation of modern art museums in those two cities.

    The advice and gifts Rockefeller and his assistants offered to Brazilian industrialists, entrepreneurs, and collectors leveraged important initiatives to change the artistic and cultural panorama in the country in the late 1940s. The Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, led by the couple Ciccillo and Yolanda Matarazzo and responsible for the creation of the International São Paulo Biennial, and the Museum of Art of São Paulo, which maintained the Institute of Contemporary Art and Habitat magazine led by Assis Chateaubriand, headed those efforts. The Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, originally led by Raymundo de Castro Maia, followed suit, becoming the stage for the renovation of Brazilian art in the 1950s and 1970s, ranging from Concrete and Neoconcrete art to the Tropicália Movement.

    Rockefeller was very much involved in the creation of the MAM Rio – the idea was to have a museum with the same structure and ideas of the MoMA. By the early 1950s, he had donated not only Pollock’s painting, but also works by Robert Motherwell, Fernand Léger, and Yves Tanguy. In response to his generosity, Rockefeller was made an emeritus member of the Rio museum in 1952. This was a meaningful symbolic gesture that reiterated the cultural bond and the fraternity between the two museums and the two countries, as expressed by MAM Rio’s Vice President Francisco Clementino Santiago Dantas after the ceremony.

    The museum’s collection suffered significant changes after an accidental fire consumed the elegant structure in Rio de Janeiro on July 8, 1978, destroying ninety percent of the works deposited in its premises. Soon after that, MAM Rio rose from the ashes strengthened by donations and loans from major Brazilian collectors, whose focus has been to collect and promote Brazilian art.

    Jackson Pollock’s Number 16 survived the 1978 incident that changed the museum’s mission, extending, to this day, the original support Nelson A. Rockefeller prided himself on offering to the renovation of art in Brazil.

    Jackson Pollock's Visual Dynamics
    Helen A. Harrison

    Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Director
    Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York

    Among the many misconceptions about Jackson Pollock and his art is the assumption that most of his paintings are large. In fact, less than a quarter of his oeuvre comprises paintings larger than four feet in height or width, and there are only eight with a dimension of over twelve feet. Yet mural-size canvases like Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950, One: Number 31, 1950, and Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952, have come to define the image of a typical Pollock painting, creating a distorted impression of both his actual output and his aesthetic. Indeed it’s not the size that embodies the essence of Pollock’s work, but the scale—that is to say, the visual dynamics within the composition, regardless of its measurements. Remarkably, in Pollock’s classic poured paintings those dynamics remain constant, whether the field is large or small. As the preeminent Pollock scholar, Francis V. O’Connor, observed: “This singularity of gestural scale is the secret of Pollock’s monumentality” (Francis V. O’Connor, “Jackson Pollock’s Monumentality”, in Jackson Pollock: Small Poured Works, 1943-1950, exh. cat, Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, Springs, 2006, p. 22). Thus a relatively small painting like Number 16, 1950, is, in concentrated form, as artistically powerful and emblematic as a big one.

    Number 16, 1950, created when Pollock was at the height of his powers, represents his mastery of the use of liquid paint to express what he called “energy and motion made visible” and “memories arrested in space.” It is one of a group of sixteen known works painted on identical squares of Masonite, a type of pressed wood paneling, smooth on one side and textured on the other. Pollock had scores of these boards, which were left over from a screenprinting job done by his brother Sanford in 1948 for the F.J. Raff Company. The smooth side of the boards was printed with baseball diamonds and marketed as the Autograph Baseball Game. When the job was finished, Sanford had many extra pieces of pre-cut Masonite, 22 ¼ by 22 ¼ inches, and he offered them to Jackson, who also used Masonite for several of his larger paintings. With a canvas-like texture and firm structure, the boards were ideal for his purpose, and their small size in no way limited his creative imagination.

    Thirteen of the paintings from this series were included in Pollock’s solo exhibition, from November 28 to December 16, 1950, at the Betty Parsons Gallery, the show that’s widely regarded as the apogee of his career. Eight of them, including Number 16, 1950, were hung flanking Autumn Rhythm. Their uniform size and grouping highlight the amazing variety of painterly effects Pollock was able to achieve within a repeated format. In Number 16, 1950, he primed the textured side with aluminum radiator paint, giving it a pearly ground. Over this he laid a delicate tracery of interwoven gestures—primarily in black, with accents of teal blue, mustard, creamy white and red—that dance rhythmically across the surface, rising in graceful curves and loops as if borne aloft by the energy he sought to capture.

    The 1950 Betty Parsons Exhibition

    When Peggy Guggenheim, who had championed Pollock throughout the early 1940s, closed her Art of This Century Gallery to return to Europe in 1947, she had trouble finding a dealer to take over Pollock’s contract. Betty Parsons, who had opened her gallery in 1946, was the only dealer in New York willing to work with Pollock and signed an agreement with Guggenheim: she would handle Pollock’s work until Guggenheim’s contract expired in early 1948, and mount a one-man show the following winter. Parsons represented Pollock throughout his so-called glory years, working with him from 1947 to 1952.

    Pollock’s second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery is widely considered the crowning moment of his career. It presented three of his largest and most famous canvases, including Number 32, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; One: Number 31, 1950, Museum of Modern Art; New York, and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as well as his discrete series of Masonite paintings, of which Number 16 is one. The exhibition was voted among the three outstanding one-man shows of the year by Art News, with Pollock ranking second before Giacometti. Seen as the epitome articulation of contemporary art in America, Cecil Beaton famously staged his fashion shoot in the exhibition space that appeared in Vogue in March 1951.

    Once referred to as “the den mother of Abstract Expressionism”, Parsons helped build the careers of not only Pollock, but also Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Barnett Newman well before success claimed them and while the market for their work was nascent (Grace Lichtenstein, “Betty Parsons: Still trying to find the creative world in everything”, Art News, March 1979).
    A true visionary, she later continued to promote the work of emerging artists, including Agnes Martin, Leon Polk Smith, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns until her death in 1982. As Helen Frankenthaler declared, "Betty and her gallery helped construct the center of the art world. She was one of the last of her breed” (Helen Frankenthaler, quoted in Carol Strick, "Betty Parsons's 2 Lives: She Was Artist, Too”, The New York Times, June 28, 1992, online).

    Modern Inspiration for a Post-War Era

    Though the atmospheric effect of Pollock’s paintings have frequently elicited comparisons to the work of Claude Monet, Pollock’s emphasis on line, rather than color, made him heir to Miró, an artist he cited, along with Picasso, as the two artists he admired most. As Ellen G. Landau has argued, mature drip works such as the present one illustrate the continued stimulus that Miró’s work had on the development of Pollock's distinctively linear allover format. In contrast to complex superimposition of skeins in Pollock’s earlier drip works, the compositions he created in 1950 increasingly became “simpler, airier, more controlled and ‘classic’”(Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 183). With the underlying surface often remaining visible, rivulets of paint more crisply coalesce into configurations that indicate a latent resurfacing of imagery, though the holistic effect of the all-over composition complicates the eye’s tendency to establish figure/ground relationships.

    In Number 16, the two, thickly outlined and continuous shapes at the lower left and the pointillist droplets of paint that punctuate the swirling composition can be seen to echo the stellar metaphor invoked in Miró’s Constellations, which Pollock would have been familiar with from their exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1945. The domineering black lines of the composition can also be seen to anticipate the gestural black drawings on canvas of 1951, particularly Echo: Number 25, 1951, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The discrete form at the lower center of Number 16 shares striking parallels to the ovoid shape at the upper left of Echo: Number 25, which as curator Carolyn Lancher has pointed out, likely suggested to Pollock by the “myriad occurrences in the art of Miró and Picasso” (Carolyn Lancher, Jackson Pollock, New York, 2017, p. 45).

    Pollock’s Drip Technique

    Perhaps no other artist has been associated with a painting technique as Jackson Pollock, whose name immediately conjures the image of the artist dripping and pouring paint on his canvases. His drip technique, as Barbara Rose noted, “was in and of itself so radical that Picasso’s distortions looked tame by comparison” (Barbara Rose, Pollock Painting, New York, 1980, n.p.). Though Pollock had briefly experimented with a pouring technique in the early 1940s, it was in the winter of 1946 and 1947 that he achieved his artistic breakthrough. Emulating the techniques of the Navajo Indian sand painters that he had witnessed as a child, Pollock made the decisive shift of placing the canvas on the floor while letting thinned paint drip, fall and splatter onto the surface below.

    The photographs that Hans Namuth took of Pollock in the summer of 1950 reveal the refined degree of mastery Pollock had achieved within three years of honing this technique. Namuth’s iconic photographs do not conform to the style of the artist’s portrait, but instead radically focused on the process of art making, rather than the static object. The photographs captured Pollock totally immersed in his trance-like, performative act of art making, or “action painting”, as Harold Rosenberg later coined in 1952. As Namuth recalled, Pollock would "take his stick or brush out of the paint can and then, in a cursive sweep, pass it over the canvas high above it, so that the viscous paint would form trailing patterns which hover over the canvas before they settle upon it, and then fall into it and then leave a trace of their own passage. He is not drawing on the canvas so much as in the air above it" (Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock. An American Saga, New York, 1989, p. 539).

    Namuth’s images evidence how, by 1950, Pollock’s work took on a new focus and quality. As opposed to the bravura approach and more complex superposition of skeins in his earlier drip works, he was developing simpler, airier, and more controlled compositions, as evidenced in Number 16. Pollock claimed to know exactly where the drips would fall even after the wildest of gestural splashes. What was essential, he asserted in a rare personal notation, was "total control - denial of the accident”. In support of this, Lee Krasner recalled that Pollock's "assuredness at that time is frightening to me. The confidence, and the way he would do it was unbelievable" (Lee Krasner, "Jackson Pollock at Work: An Interview with Barbara Rose", Partisan Review, 47, no. 1, 1980, p. 45).

    Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro


    Founded in 1948, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio) is one of the most prestigious museums in Brazil. As one of a few private non-profit institutions, it occupies a key position in the Brazilian art world as a hub for the consolidation and spread of art and culture.

    Jackson Pollock’s Number 16has been a treasured part of the permanent collection for nearly seven decades, since Nelson A. Rockefeller generously donated the work to the museum in 1952. On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, it is the museum’s aim to focus on its self-sustainability to further its mission of showcasing the art of Brazil.

    MAM Rio has a rich tradition of acting as a haven for avant-garde expression and experimentalism. Since 1958, MAM Rio has been housed in a building specially designed by the architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy, now considered a landmark of the modernist movement in Brazil. The birthplace of many of Brazil’s artistic movements, it has been a point of reference for different tendencies over the years, such as Grupo Frente, which was founded by artist and MAM Rio educator Ivan Serpa in 1954 and formed by artists including Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape. It furthermore mounted seminal exhibitions such as Neoconcretism and The Printing Studio, both in 1959, and New Brazilian Objectivity in 1967.

    Meanwhile, it also provided inspiration for the movement of Cinema Novo in the 1960s, Cinema Marginal in the 1970s, and supported the production of independent shorts and documentaries throughout the past decades.

    Beyond MAM Rio’s proud tradition as a living lab for artists, it fulfills the important mission of preserving and showcasing the production of Brazilian modern art from the 1920s up to the present day. Since 1993, the museum's collection has included over 6,000 items on permanent loan from the Gilberto Chateaubriand Collection, recognized around the world as the most comprehensive collection of Brazilian modern and contemporary art. More recently, MAM Rio received the Joaquim Paiva Collection on permanent loan, featuring nearly 2,000 works of Brazilian and international photography.

23

Property Formerly from the Collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller, Sold to Benefit the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro

Number 16

signed and dated "50 J Pollock" lower right
oil and enamel on Masonite
22 1/4 x 22 1/4 in. (56.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Executed in 1950.

Estimate on Request

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Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018