Blue poles: still polarising debate

Monday 10 Oct 2016

Charles Sturt University (CSU) experts in art history have weighed in on a proposal to sell off the Jackson Pollock painting, Blue poles.

Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1973 © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ARSVictorian Liberal Senator James Paterson is arguing the iconic painting, now estimated to be worth $350 million, could be sold to help pay Australia's debt.

Senior lecturer in art history and visual culture at CSU's School of Communication and Creative Industries Dr Neill Overton agrees money invested in the painting could be better spent.

"Jackson Pollock is not an Australian artist; he was born in Wyoming, and grew up in Iowa," said Dr Overton.

"He is known disparagingly as 'Jack the dripper' due to his drip and splatter paintings made flat on the floor on large canvases, usually in an alcohol fuelled state. 

"Why are we deifying this abstract expressionist artist who represents a 1950s abstract American art movement?" 

Dr Overton said, "Sell off the work, and reinvest it in Australian art. I cannot see why having one Pollock, or one Picasso, matters a bean. We are never going to have a comprehensive or representative collection of those international artists' works. 

"Redirect the money towards collecting work of contemporary Australian artists, and contemporary Australian indigenous art in particular. 

"This phoney venerating of 1950s American artists purely as an art investment does not advance the profile of Australian art in the least."

The purchase of Blue poles for $1.3 million in 1973 created fierce debate and so too is this latest proposal to sell it.

CSU lecturer in art history and visual culture, also from the School of Communication and Creative Industries, Dr Sam Bowker argues this is exactly what the Senator was aiming for.

"Senator Paterson's proposal to sell Blue poles is simply trolling for outrage. He's a new senator with minimal public profile, and he's borrowing the tactics of shock jocks and the far right to alienate everybody," said Dr Bowker.

"He has said nothing new. His calls to cease funding professional sport echo the artist Ben Quilty's statements in 2013. Complaining about Blue poles is an Australian rite of passage.

"Blue poles is public art on a grand scale, and it's a reliable income-generator as it is. Of course the National Gallery of Australia could sell it, but it would be a missed opportunity for future visitors and ongoing revenue.

"Public galleries rarely sell artworks. When they do, their proceeds only fund the gallery, not the national debt. The original collection policy of MOMA in New York was to constantly acquire new work, then sell them once they reached an age limit, funding new acquisitions. This was quickly abandoned because the value of a collection lies in its depth, not a torpedo snapshot, and visitors want to see the famous works first."

As for the argument at $350 million could be better spent on improving critical infrastructure, Dr Overton has this novel solution.

"Perhaps some of the money realised from such a sale could be redirected to an artist-led project to fill in potholes in roads with multi-coloured cement.

"This could be part of a high profiled, international Tele-tubbying movement whereby multi-coloured cement shapes and splatters by different artists, some involving ceramic tiles, are used to fill in potholes in main roads. 

"I have been advocating this approach for years in Wagga Wagga, it utilises artists towards overdue public works, namely pot-hole fixing, which is a win/win situation," said Dr Overton.


Media contact: Ms Emily Malone and Ms Fiona Halloran, (02) 6933 2207

Media Note:

Dr Neill Overton and Dr Sam Bowker are based at CSU's School of Communication and Creative Industries in Wagga Wagga. Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews.

Image: Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1973 © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ARS