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Masterpiece of American Modernism Will Be a Linchpin of Colby’s Collection

The Colby College Museum of Art is pleased to announce the major acquisition of Jackson Pollock’s Composition with Masked Forms (1941), a critical painting that reflects a watershed moment in the artist’s stylistic transition to Abstract Expressionism. It is the first major work by Pollock in a public collection in Maine and will be available for viewing beginning July 11, 2018.

Held in a private collection since 1973, this acquisition speaks to the Colby Museum’s ongoing commitment to adding works that broaden and complicate its presentation of American art. The painting will inspire new avenues of inquiry at a moment when the Colby Museum and its newly launched Lunder Institute are advancing critical and creative research in American art within a global context.

“As one of the world’s leading institutions for the study of American art, the Colby Museum continues to build on its remarkable collection through acquisitions that offer important works for our visitors to view and provide our faculty and students with incredible tools for teaching and learning,” said President David A. Greene. “We are thrilled to be home to some of the greatest artists of all time and now to add the name Jackson Pollock to the list of masters at Colby. This painting, which truly is a destination piece, propels the collection to a new level of excellence.”

For the first time, this painting will be an object of critical study available to scholars, faculty, and students across the disciplines, including, but not limited to, those focused on psychology, New York School poets and dancers, Abstract Expressionism as an instrument of American foreign policy, economics of the art market, and histories of cross-cultural appropriation.

“We have spent the past decade expanding both the depth and the diversity of the collection and the narratives of American art we are able to share,” said Sharon Corwin, the Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art. “With this acquisition, we are deepening our strength in American modernism. This extraordinary painting represents an iconic moment in abstract art and will become a linchpin of the collection. We can’t wait for our visitors to see it.”

Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, commented, “Jackson Pollock’s Composition with Masked Forms is an intense and seething work that conjoins many diverse and seemingly contradictory directions of art at mid-20th century from the stylized, social realism of Thomas Hart Benton’s landscapes and the appropriated ‘tribal art’ subjects derived from Picasso to the swirling, surrealist compositions by expatriate painter André Masson, who moved to the U.S. in 1941, the year Composition was painted. This anxious, disruptive, and disturbing painting with its explosive, pelagic forms symbolically and stylistically seeks deeper meanings and associations. It also anticipates Pollock’s drip paintings, begun in 1947, which later capture this same restless spirit in purely abstract form.”

A Linchpin Addition to the Colby Museum’s Collection

Composition with Masked Forms exemplifies Pollock’s synthetic prowess as he absorbed new influences while remaining in the thrall of Surrealism. The painting performs something of a call and response with Picasso’s Vollard Suite, the series of 100 etchings that joined the Colby Museum’s Lunder Collection in 2016.

Pollock’s canvas looks back to many other artists represented in the Colby Museum collection, but it also fills out its historical moment and casts its influence forward, touching countless key holdings. Work by Richard Pousette-Dart shares some of the same pictographic or hieratic impulses, and mainstays of the collection such as Joan Mitchell’s Chamrousse (1967–68) and Alma Thomas’ Red Tree in High Winter (1968) both lean on Pollock’s treatment of the picture plane.

But the artist’s enduring global impact is by no means confined to painterly modes of abstraction, or to any single medium. Alex Katz, Lois Dodd, and other members of that generation of figurative artists borrowed strategies from Pollock to serve representational ends. In addition, a recently acquired 1996 painting by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, offers a compelling counterexample to Pollock’s cultural appropriation.

Composition with Masked Forms joins the museum’s Lunder Collection and its acquisition was made possible through generous gifts from the Barsalona Family, Peter and Paula Lunder through the Lunder Foundation, and proceeds from the Colby Museum’s Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund. It will go on view in the permanent collection galleries in conjunction with the July 14 opening celebrating the exhibitions Self and Society: The Norma Boom Marin Collection of German Expressionist Prints and Modern Wonder: The John Marin Collection.

Image Credit:

Jackson Pollock, Composition with Masked Forms, 1941. Oil on canvas, 27 3⁄4 x 49 3⁄4 in. Colby College Museum of Art. Gift of the Barsalona Family, Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisition Fund, and gift of Peter and Paula Lunder, The Lunder Collection. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York