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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art
Pollock et le Chaminisme

Many of the pieces on this website were shown at this landmark exhibit at the Pinacothèque de Paris in 2008 and clearly illustrate the link between Abstract Expressionism and Pacific Northwest Coast Tribal Arts. These pieces are marked by a representation of the show’s poster.

The following was written for the show catalog by Marc Restellini, the director of the Pinacothèque de Paris and translated by Ann Cremin.

“It has been noted that for creative minds, bridges between various cultures provide a newly exhilarating approach, with a return to a founding culture, sometimes giving artists the only possibility to look at their mundane world. These bridges between cultures also allow an escape from the daily round whenever political and economic climates prove especially difficult. And, finally, they provide the artists with a means of broaching worlds unknown to the majority of mere mortals. The artist, to his intense satisfaction, thereby sets himself apart from most people by setting foot on unexplored territories.

And so it was for Pollock who, early in his career, took an interest in Shamanism. The exhibition presented in the Pinacothèque de Paris is an illustration of this revolutionary re-reading of his body of work.

Like Gauguin, Picasso or Modigliani, Pollock was interested in Primitivism, more specifically in Amerindian art forms. That is a proven fact. But tradition has it that the passage to the “dripping” period – a.k.a American Abstract Expressionism – marks a setting aside of that interest, opening up a new period in his art, from which every Amerindian reference had vanished.

When Stephen Polcari first mentioned to me the idea that Pollock had been, quite apart from the artist’s interest in American Indians, very attracted by Shamanism and that it had an unimaginable impact on his art, I at first deemed this theory to be foolhardy, even far-fetched. But my own personal interest in the influence of Primitivism on modern art led me to examine his theory with interest. The confrontation with the work itself seemed to bear out his notion.

The demonstration became perfectly obvious to me in a completely fascinating manner: Pollock Shamanism represented the finality of a thought process, as well as a passageway through mystical portals, allowing him to reach out to worlds that most people can never attain."

As the demonstration became ever more evident, connections with Surrealism began to impinge and more specifically with André Masson, who was one of Pollock’s foremost references along with Amerindian art.

That is how, little by little, the “drippings” seemed to me quite obviously not just purely abstract works, but also symbolic works containing references to Shamanism or to Shamanic rituals. That demonstration naturally led me to a complete re-reading of Pollock’s oeuvre.

Henceforth, the abstract logic vanished to leave place for the artist’s deliberate desire to have us believe in the object’s disappearance in order to, as initiatory Shamanic rituals, let us accede to mystical portals that everyone cannot behold, but which was reserved for some “chosen few.”

Pollock was a child of Jungian analysis. For him the concept of the unconscious and of initiation or initiatory rituals was very powerful.

The concept of reaching other worlds was very clear, as can be seen in the knowledge of the Indian world that Jackson Pollock had at that time, as well as through the exhibition on Amerindian art organized by MoMA in 1941.

The confrontation with Masson and with Surrealism in general, sensitive to the same preoccupations when faced with an America in total recession, undergoing one of the worst crises in its history, must have given Pollock an urge to bring forth a new man, to re-model “the common man”, in Polcari’s words, the one who put up with his life without being able to provide it with meaning, so as to finally accede to a means of re-awakening.

That way of thinking seemed all the more interesting since it linked up with that of Gauguin, Picasso, Modigliani, Brancusi, Derain and Matisse, all of whom sought in Primitivism solutions to their period’s problems by going back to the sources and to nature. Quite certainly, the path taken by Pollock was one of the most ambitious, intellectually speaking, as the psychoanalytical and primitive concepts are reached.

The exhibition “Pollock and Shamanism,” whose subject is totally in keeping with my own approach as an art historian, could only take place in the Pinacothèque de Paris. I feel it is really important to offer the largest possible public this new view on one of the major American artists of the 20th century.

It is shown at the same time as the exhibition devoted to Georges Rouault, an example of the bridge between civilizations and mysticism.

The juxtaposition of these exhibitions demonstrates that all over the planet, the great artists’ preoccupations are finally very similar.

Demonstrative, clear-sighted, scientifically organized by Stephen Polcari who guided me and accompanied me in the choice of the works on view, this exhibition is, it must be admitted, outstanding. There is no doubt about it, the viewer’s look at Pollock’s body of work will be transformed.

The “Drippings” are seen in a new light. Pollock is no longer simply the brilliant abstract artist throwing his paint at the canvas placed on the floor according to movements dictated by abstract aesthetical choices. Pollock’s wish was quite other: that gesture had as its finality to present a subject even as it gave the illusion of abstraction and of an absence of subject (that is the very definition of abstraction, when the work has no subject matter.

Pollock set aside abstraction to enter into a sphere of "nonobjectivity."

Should the very existence of abstraction itself not be subject to revision?

Marc Restellini

The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Indian Art, Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved