|Illustration by Jaclyn LoRaso|
Among the greatest art pranks of the 20th century was the once infamous but now forgotten incident of Jackson Pollock's "Woman" painting. In the early fifties, spurred on by their respective critical champions, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, Pollock and Willem de Kooning became embroiled in a legendary, acrimonious rivalry. There were drunken insults at the Cedar Tavern and near fights on the beach in East Hampton. The enmity reached its apex in 1952, shortly after de Kooning began showing his seminal "Woman" paintings. At the time, Pollock was the reigning Abstract Expressionist (or action painter, depending on whose camp you were in), but the "Woman" series catapulted de Kooning to the forefront of avant-garde art. Although not remembered for his sense of humor, Pollock set out to puncture the Dutchman's ego.
Visitor's to a fall group show at the Sydney Janis Gallery were surprised to find included a remarkable painting called "Woman V (My Mama)." The work was attributed to de Kooning — but which had been in fact been cooked up by a drunk Pollock the night before. The canvas depicted, in de Kooning's typically brutal style, a gap-toothed hag with long, pendulous breasts, strawlike hair, a black eye, and a hideous deformity of the genitals. Word got around town that de Kooning had finally gone too far. Eventually, of course, the august artist made his way to the gallery — during a cocktail party, where, it so happened, Pollock was also in attendance. The diminutive Dutchman stalked over to his bald colleague and jabbed a finger toward the painting.
A partial transcript of the ensuing exchange survives:
"This, this excrement is not my mama," de Kooning thundered at Pollock in his heavy accent. "I know, it's yo mama."
"What did you say about my mama, partner?" Pollock muttered.
"She is hideous, yo mama."
"Yo mama. That ain't my painting. It ain't American type."
De Kooning, red with rage, sweating up at the balding man: "That turd is yo mama."
"Don't be talkin shit about my mama, Bill, or I'll knock that cap off you."
Witnesses described de Kooning attempting to kick Pollock in the shins, and being subsequently shoved by Pollock so that he fell into a coatroom. It has been theorized that this incident led de Kooning to begin an affair with Ruth Kligman, Pollock's paramour until his death.
And, unless this is another prank, there's this, also from ARTINFO -- if I'm understanding it right, the Guggenheim and the Brooklyn Museum are selling artists' prints. Isn't there something wrong with that???