Mural by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock unvarnished

Decision to restore Pollock's Mural neatly sidesteps a developing argument over its ownership

Restorers are to spend 18 months working on one of Jackson Pollock’s most important artworks. Mural, painted in 1943, was commissioned by collector Peggy Gugenheim just a few years before the artist began his famous drip paintings. Measuring 20 feet by 8 feet, it was to prove a breakthrough for Pollock in his move from symbolic to abstract forms. 

"For us it's an opportunity to preserve an incredibly important work of art," James Cuno of the Getty Center in LA said. "It's an idiosyncratic painting but very important in the development of Pollock's work. It's a hinge painting in his career, from his early calligraphic paintings to his drip paintings."

The painting is currently owned by the University of Iowa. Head of paintings conservation for the museum, Yvonne Szafran says the conservation will address the sagging of the canvas at the centre caused by its weight and size, replace or reinforce the stretcher and, if possible, remove the varnish added after Pollock's lifetime."It wouldn't be a dramatic change — it's not that the varnish has yellowed dramatically, but it's like a veil sitting on the surface of the painting that he did not intend," she says. In addition, she says the Getty will be doing "a lot of looking and analyzing and imaging - with X-rays and infrared work" to learn more about the artist's techniques and materials. 

The restoration of the painting conveniently sidesteps an argument over its continued ownership by the University of Iowa. Some have pushed for it to be sold to enable tuition fees for up to 1,000 students to be waived. Mural is currently insured for $140 million but could reach far more than that at auction. Last year, a bill was introduced to force a sale but dropped after protests. Sean O’Harrow the university museum director said: "Raising awareness of the work's importance is definitely part of our plans, The more people know about the work and value it as a national treasure, the less likely it is to be hocked for short-term gain somewhere."

Beginning with Pollock (and Marcel Duchamp), our book, The Artist's Body, examines a selection of the most significant players who have used their bodies to create their art - among them, in the 1960s, Carolee Scheemann, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Yoko Ono and in the 1970s, Chris Burden, Ana Mendieta, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic. It goes right up to the turn of the millennium with Matthew Barney, Marc Quinn, Tracey Emin and Mona Hatoum. It's in the store now