At MoMA, Jackson Pollock Turns Out to Be Comic

THE DAILY PIC: Did Pollock have a cartoonist's soul?


THE DAILY PIC (#1492): This is  a drawing made in about 1945 by Jackson Pollock. It’s the third in my week’s worth of selections from MoMA’s show of its unrivalled Pollock holdings. (Actually, I’m showing a detail from the drawing, but the rest of the sheet that it’s on is blank.)

When I first saw today’s Pic I couldn’t ignore its roots in cartoons and caricatures – its origins in Saul Steinberg more than in Kandinsky. And it made me realize that there’s a funny, absurdist streak in all of the famous works Pollock went on to make. What could be funnier – sillier, even – than splashing paint on a canvas? It’s not a million miles from the Dada abstractions of Hans Arp, which he said he made by letting bits of colored card settle at random on a surface.

Although Dada, and the “neo-Dada” of Pop Art, were once viewed as diametrically opposed to the haughty sobriety of Abstract Expressionism, I think they were more closely related than anyone let on. That’s why the rhetoric opposing them got so overheated, like the words of siblings across the dinner table. (And let’s not forget that Ad Rheinhardt, most elevated of AbEx-ers, moonlighted making biting cartoons.)

Has there been any artistic movement that suffered the barbs of cartoonists as AbEx did? And yet now I’m starting to think that there’s a lovely dynamic at play between Pollock’s “funny” canvases and all the cartoons that made fun of them – kind of like Groucho and Harpo in the great mirror scene from Duck Soup. (Gift of Philip Johnson, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Curt Valentin and Edward M. M. Warburg; © 2016 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics