|Type||Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas|
|Dimensions||212.1 cm × 488.9 cm (83.5 in × 192.5 in)|
|Location||National Gallery of Australia, Canberra|
Blue Poles, originally titled Number 11, 1952, is an abstract expressionist painting and one of the most famous works by American artist Jackson Pollock. It was purchased amid controversy by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 and today remains one of the gallery's major holdings.
At the time of the painting's creation, Pollock preferred not to assign names to his works, but rather numbers; as such, the original title of Blue Poles was simply "Number 11"' or "No. 11" for the year 1952. In 1954, the new title Blue Poles was first seen at an exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery and reportedly originated from Pollock himself.
According to art historian Dennis Phillips, the specific rather than ambiguous title "limits our field of comprehension and does the painting a singular disservice. Because we look for the poles and miss much of the rest, the name is simply too distracting."
1973: National Gallery of Australia purchase
The National Gallery of Australia purchased Blue Poles in 1973 for A$1.3 million. The gallery's director at the time, James Mollison, was not able to authorize purchases over $1 million, so the acquisition was approved by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
The purchase elicited a great deal of public discussion; according to art historian Patrick McCaughey, "never had such a picture moved and disturbed the Australian public". The debate centred around the painting's record selling price, at the time a world record for a contemporary American painting, as well as the perceived financial ineptitude of Whitlam's Labor Party government and debate over the relative value of abstract art. In the conservative climate of the time, the purchase created a political and media scandal.
1998–1999: Museum of Modern Art retrospective
In 1998, Blue Poles left Australia for the first time since its purchase for inclusion in a Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York which ran from November 1, 1998 to February 2, 1999. The painting was the signature work of the exhibition, and as described in a review, it "dominated" the last gallery of the show, ending it "not with a whimper, but a bang".
The painting has become one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery, for both its value as a major work of 1950s abstract expressionism, and its significance in Australian politics and history. The purchase of Blue Poles is still frequently cited by the Labor Party faithful as proof of the wisdom of Gough Whitlam. Estimates of the painting's present value vary widely, from $20 million to $100 million, but its increased value has at least shown it to have been a worthwhile purchase from a financial point of view.
- Phillips, Dennis (December 1974). "Understanding Jackson Pollock and Blue Poles". Australian Quarterly 46 (4): 91–96.
- Lloyd, Michael and Michael Desmond. Blue Poles. National Gallery of Australia. Excerpted from European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery by M. Lloyd and M. Desmond, 1992.
- Heanue, Siobhan (29 August 2012). "Stroke of genius: the legacy of Blue Poles". ABC News (Australia). Archived from the original on 1 November 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- Cosic, Miriam (August 18, 2012). "Jackson Pollock's landmark work remains in pole position". The Australian. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- "Gough! Splutter! Museum's blue poles cause a whole new row". The Age. 4 November 2006. Archived from the original on 1 November 2012.
- Barrett, Lindsay (2006). The Prime Minister's Christmas Card: Blue Poles and Cultural Politics in the Whitlam Era. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9781864872750.
- Spring, Justin (1999). "Jackson Pollock, Superstar". New England Review (Middlebury College Publications) 20 (1): 44–55.
- Blue Poles at the official National Gallery of Australia website