Entertainment & Arts

Jackson Pollock’s drips and dribbles? Conservation exhibition aims to show there’s a science to that

Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1949, enamel and metallic paint on canvas, 63 x 102 1/2 in. (160.02 x 260
Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1, 1949,” enamel and metallic paint on canvas, 63 inches by 102.5 inches. The painting is the subject of a collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Getty Conservation Institute.
(Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society )

When a museum puts a Jackson Pollock on view, some visitors will inevitably contend that their preschool children could easily dribble, splatter and fling paint on a canvas, creating a masterpiece with equal aplomb as the abstract expressionist artist.

It’s a notion that will be dispelled in public view during the conservation of Pollock’s “Number 1, 1949,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

“Everyone thinks anyone can replicate a Jackson Pollock painting,” said private conservator Chris Stavroudis, recalling a Three Stooges bit in which they spit paint on a canvas. “There’s a lot more to the process.”

MOCA is collaborating with the Getty Conservation Institute to bring that process out of the laboratory and into a gallery, providing a rare peek at the science and art behind protecting a painting.

“When a public viewing was suggested, I thought it was a great opportunity to knock up a few levels of transparency,” said Tom Learner, head of science at the institute, where he spent two years working on Pollock’s “Mural” in 2014. “MOCA doesn’t have a staff conservator, so this was a perfect fit.”

Jackson Pollock
Detail of "Number 1, 1949," showing where nails were accidentally dropped onto the canvas. The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society

What can visitors expect to see now through Sept. 3?

“Right now, they’ll see me vacuuming dirt and dust,” Stavroudis said of the first phase of conservation, which requires cleaning decades of surface dirt and environmental exposure. A computer monitor will allow him to zoom in and enlarge tiny details, such as a bee stuck in the painting and the outline of where several 2-inch nails were accidentally dropped on the canvas in the lower right corner of the 9-foot-wide canvas.

It’s common during the cleaning process to remove dirt and varnish applied later, said Learner, adding that the cleaning process does not dissolve the paint and pigments beneath it.

The team also studies whether to fill cracks or otherwise restore some of the white, black, gray and mustard-colored tendrils of paint — work that will be anything but child’s play.

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‘Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1949: A Conservation Treatment’

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: Stavroudis will work in the gallery select Thursdays and will be available for Q&A sessions with the public 11:30 a.m.‐noon and 5:30‐6 p.m.

Admission: $8-$15

Information: (213) 626-6222,

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April 4: This article was updated to clarify details of the cleaning process.

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