Pollock's Black Period

Tony Vaccaro / Getty Images

At the Dallas Museum of Art, a show of the artist’s lesser-known work reveals his dark side.

On the November 26, 1951, Jackson Pollock, having been recently hailed by Life as perhaps the greatest living painter in America for his revolutionary drip canvases, held a show of new work at the Betty Parsons Gallery, in New York. Not a single painting sold. Pollock had replaced the color and abstraction that had made his name with black enamel tracings on unprimed cotton duck, in which figures could be vaguely discerned, like ghosts in the machine. “He essentially threw the baby out with the bathwater,” says Gavin Delahunty, the curator of the Dallas Museum of Art’s “Blind Spots,” a revelatory reexamination of Pollock’s most haunting period.

When these “Black Paintings” were first shown, their rejection of color and problematic resuscitation of figuration were mocked as depressing and regressive. Yet they went on to inspire monochromatic minimalists like Ad Reinhardt and Robert Ryman, Color Field painters like Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland, and contemporary artists like Julie Mehretu and Wade Guyton. For Delahunty, they’re a distillation: from saturation to monochrome, from chaos to open space where there’s nowhere to hide.

“Blind Spots” culminates with 1953’s Portrait and a Dream, Pollock’s final masterpiece. It’s split down the middle, half abstract, half figurative; half black, half color. “It’s as if Pollock is saying, Maybe I haven’t gotten there yet. I have to keep exploring,” Delahunty says. Tragically, he was never able to; having descended into alcoholism once more, he crashed his Oldsmobile into a tree in 1956. But in bringing these works together for the first time, “Blind Spots” shows just how tantalizing his promise still was. November 20–March 20; dma.org.