Ellen G. Landau, Art Historian


Ellen Landaus engaging and informative book, Jackson Pollock, was warmly praised for both its impeccable scholarship and its lively insights into the work of one of the 20th century’s seminal painters. Published jointly in 1989 by Harry N. Abrams (New York) and Thames & Hudson (London), the book also confirmed Landau’s stature as one of the world's foremost authorities on the work of Pollock (1912–1956), the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement and arguably the most original painter to emerge in America. She is also an authority on the work of Lee Krasner (1908–1984), Pollock’s wife, who was one of the few female painters in the aggressively male circle of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism.

In fact, it was in the course of writing her doctoral dissertation on Krasner at the University of Delaware (Ph.D., 1981) that Landau became interested in Pollock, the deeply troubled man and brilliant painter with whom Krasner lived for 14 years. Landau’s contributions to our understanding of the work of Pollock and Krasner have been recognized with numerous scholarship-in-residence appointments at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, a project of the Stony Brook Foundation, in East Hampton, New York, where her appreciation for the unique visions and abiding legacy of this extraordinary couple continued to deepen and expand.

A series of articles written for prestigious American and European art journals such as Les cahiers du musée nationale dart moderne, which published Landau’s “Jackson Pollock—L’equipée sauvage” in the spring of 1988, won her growing respect among contemporary art historians. And in 1989 she was invited to co-curate the Krasner/Pollock exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, the first show featuring the pair’s work to be mounted in Europe.

Since winning the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1991, Landau has continued to make important contributions to Pollock and Krasner scholarship. In 1993 she wrote the catalog text for an exhibition of Pollock’s work at the ACA Galleries in Munich, Germany, and in 1995 she published an essay reconsidering the influence of Mexican art on Pollock for a joint exhibition of the work of Pollock and Mexican painter and political activist David Siqueiros organized at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf. The same year saw the publication of Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné (Harry N. Abrams), written with the assistance of Jeffrey D. Grove under the auspices of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, which examined the steadily growing reputation of Pollock’s widow as an artist in her own right.

In 1998 Landau was appointed to chair the joint program in art history and museum studies sponsored by the Cleveland Museum of Art and Case Western Reserve University, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1982 and holds the distinguished title of University Professor. Her special area of concentration is 20th-century American and European art and theory, particularly Abstract Expressionism.

In 2001 Landau was invited to the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem to present a paper on the painter Philip Guston that was part of a book in progress on abstract expressionism and Mexican art. Her anthology and methodological
study, Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique, was published by Yale University Press in 2005. 

When a trove of hitherto unknown small (“experimental”) drip paintings attributed to Pollock were found among the possessions of the late photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter, Landau was brought in to evaluate their authenticity. Pollock Matters (2007), co-authored with Claude Cernuchi, presents the scientific evidence and explores the two men’s close relationship, which lasted until Pollock’s death in 1956. Most interestingly, it shows how Matter’s technical innovations stimulated Pollock’s groundbreaking conception of “energy made visible.”

Another influential member of the Gorky-de Kooning-Guston-Hofmann-Pollock-Krasner circle is the subject of Mercedes Matter (2009), a portrait of painter/model/critic/muse/educator Mercedes Carles Matter, who, as founder of the now legendary New York Studio School, persuaded  the school to hire Guston, Alex Katz, Morton Feldman and other trailblazing artists of the post-war years. It was the friendship of Mercedes and Lee Krasner, who met in jail in 1936 after the two women were arrested for protesting Works Progress Administration cutbacks, that brought their future husbands together.

—Dennis Dooley


In Search of the Continuous Line

At exactly what point and why Jackson Pollock decided to focus his efforts on a deliberate and sustained exploration of the possibilities of creating an entire composition by dripping or pouring paint is another “fact” of art history that will never be definitively established. A full four years after his first experimentation with this technique Pollock returned to it with a vengeance, but also now with a logic and control that signaled his maturity and independence of all of the well-known precedents for it. No longer content with the interruption to free movement caused each time he had to reload his brush, Pollock devised a handy way to create a more continuous line by tilting a commercial can of thinner, more liquid paint, and allowing it to run down a stick placed in the can at an angle. In this way he believed that the energy behind his imagery could literally “flow” straight from his unconscious.

Jackson Pollock (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989)


Unprepared for Acclaim

Perhaps the greatest paradox of Jackson Pollock’s complicated personality is the fact that countermanding his innate passivity was an inordinate ambition. With his wife’s encouragement, despite his often precarious mental health, Pollock had been actively seeking serious acclaim for the better part of his adult life. What neither he nor Krasner seem to have realized is that once it was achieved, he would not be able to deal with it. Even though he had the talent and she had the drive, Pollock’s vulnerability was too deep for them ever to be able to enjoy his success.

Jackson Pollock (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989)

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