Strictly Critical Video: One Hour Looking at a Jackson Pollock Painting at MoMA

What happens when you look at a single work of art for one hour?

With this week’s video, our two critics embark in a new direction: the hourlong single-work review.

Over the course of a full hour at the Museum of Modern Art, they discuss Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950, one of the “official masterpieces of American art” by “the first American artist to affect world art” (as they put it).

Why do Gopnik and Viveros-Fauné spend an entire hour discussing a single work? Because that is what art deserves. Consider that people spend weeks, even months, with a novel; hours with a movie or a play; and countless hours playing video games.

But when it comes to visual art, the treatment—the time devoted to a viewing—can approximate the length of a drive-by shooting or a turn on the catwalk. Too often people literally take a spin around the room of a gallery or a museum and then dine out on the experience—”We saw Pollock!” They say. “And Judd and Albers and Soutine!” Of course, they did see those artists’ works; they just didn’t spend much time with those artists and artworks. They didn’t, as it were, slow down and hang out (sorry) with those artworks for a meaningful length of time.

If they were investors, their behavior would be similar to playing the market, rather than amassing wealth over the long term.

It’s always fun to have some quick-chat to broadcast at dinner or cocktails. But there’s also room for the long discussion. In short (long?), there’s more than one way of looking at art.

“We thought we’d be running out of things to say,” Gopnik remarked, “but it turns out it that after an hour, we were just getting started.”

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