Artists Video

‘I Wish I Could Find Some Way to Tell You How I Feel About Jackson’: Mark Rothko Writes to Lee Krasner After the Death of Jackson Pollock


On the first Monday of each month, through June, in a partnership with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ARTnews will be sharing a short film directed by Wes Miller from a series that the AAA produced about its collections.

Today’s selection centers on the death of Jackson Pollock, on August 11, 1956, at the age of 44, in Springs, New York. In a letter to Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner, then 48, Mark Rothko, 52, grapples with his fellow artist’s passing. “Dear Lee,” he begins. “I wish I could find some way to tell you how I feel about Jackson. I do remember my last conversation with you, and that then I made some effort to tell you.” In the film the letter is read by Rothko’s son, the writer and psychologist Christopher Rothko, and shots appear of the Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton, New York, where the couple began living in 1945. (In 1951, Robert Goodnough paid a visit to their home to pen “Pollock Paints a Picture” for this magazine.)

Rothko’s letter is held by the Archives of American Art as part of the papers and photographs of Pollock and Krasner, which have been archived in the form of more than 15,000 images.

At the moment, Pollock’s famed Mural (1943), which dealer Peggy Guggenheim commissioned for her Upper East Side home, is on view in a special presentation that runs at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina through May 19, 2019. More of the artist’s work can be seen in “Epic Abstraction” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which also includes pieces by Rothko. Krasner was the subject of two recent solo exhibitions at the Kasmin gallery in New York, in 2017 and 2018. Her last retrospective ran at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Des Moines Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Akron Art Museum in Ohio between 1999 and 2001.

The first edition in this series focused on the artist Ruth Asawa.

Here’s more from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art on its work, and this project:

The Archives of American Art is a living collection, evolving with the changing world of art and artists and continually growing with new acquisitions each year. What is new is always exciting, but scholars, artists, and others continue to revisit material that is decades or even centuries old, bringing new interpretations, new framing, and new ideas to letters, diaries, oral histories, and the wide range of other materials that the Archives preserves.

In 2017, the Archives began a collaboration with filmmaker Wes Miller to produce a series of short films on important documents in its collections. The oral history, letters, and poem at the core of each film provide a glimpse of the range of historical evidence the Archives of American Art safeguards and brings into vivid detail artists’ inspirations, motivations, and the art communities in which they lived. These personal accounts preserve moments in time in a way no textbook ever can, adding richness and depth to our understanding of the American art world.

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