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23rd April, 2019

Seminar: Murals for the Modern Home


Event Details

23rd April, 2019
18:00 - 20:00
IAS Common Ground
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL

Jackson Pollock famously redefined modern muralism with his 1943 Mural for Peggy Guggenheim, a 20-foot-long abstract painting for the foyer of her New York townhouse.

Yet his most innovative and important mural is arguably a later and less well-known work, painted for Marcel Breuer’s Geller House in 1950. Cladding the back of a freestanding bookcase, and serving as a divider between the house’s living and dining rooms, the mural engaged with the spatial dynamics, textural effects, and decorative scheme of Breuer’s modernist house in unprecedented ways.

One consequence was the mural’s new architectural role within the house, where it acted less as a picture and more as a three-dimensional element that defined the flow of space. Another was the mural’s function as a form of decoration, its abstract surface suggesting a patterned textile or wallpaper.

Pollock was ambivalent about these roles, which seemed to simultaneously elevate the mural, endowing it with a new spatial presence, and strip it of its status as fine art. This talk situates the Geller mural in a longer history of abstract murals for the home, while showing how changes in midcentury architecture, suburban living, and exhibition culture redefined the genre’s possibilities. It argues that the domestic context of Pollock’s murals—overlooked or denied by most scholars—is fundamental to understanding their meaning and effect.

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