CANBERRA -- It is priceless, perplexing and, according to the woman who had the famed American painting hanging on the wall of her childhood home, “painful” to let go.
Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist 1952 masterpiece Blue Poles has polarised Australians since it was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia from Patti Adler’s New York family in 1973 for a then questionable and staggering record $1.3 million.
The then Whitlam Labor Government earned scorn for authorising the exorbitant and “wasteful” purchase from Adler’s art collector father Ben Heller, while newspaper headlines referred to it being a “drunken binge and painted by a 'barefoot drunk'.”
Public sentiment to Blue Poles has certainly softened over the years and it is now regarded as a priceless work of art.
It is priceless to Adler and her family too, but for different reasons.
“It felt like our heart was being torn out when it left,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Nothing pained us worse than Blue Poles leaving the house.”
Adler is in Canberra to view what she regards as her “old friend” for the first time since it was taken from her home more than 40 years ago
Her father, a friend of the artist, originally purchased it for $US32,000.
“This is the one we always grouped in front of for family photos. It seemed to be the one we gravitated towards.”
“It is a piece of my history, a piece of my family and a piece of myself.”
The popular work has been off display for cleaning and while the NGA’s international galleries were refurbished for the first time since the gallery opened in 1982.
It is now in a different position and is being showcased with new and improved lighting.
Adler, accompanied by her husband Peter Adler, has declared the work better than how she remembered it in her home in the 1970s.
“It really is impressive,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“It’s depth of field is amazing. The detail all over the work. It is so many layers. It draws you in.”
“It is the most spectacular painting I have ever seen.”
The Adlers have only recently become acquainted with the Australian controversy caused by the Blue Poles purchase.
“Prior to this movement, people were very immersed in figurative art and so it was very hard for people to make that transition and I think that it was very hard for the international world to make that transition,” Patti Adler said.
“A lot of people don’t appreciate art, in general.”
“So for those two reasons I think it’s understandable, but the outcry was a lot. But since it was a government purchase that is always political.”
Adler said her father sold the work to the NGA because he felt that Australia would “take it and make it into something”.
“He said last week, the way Australia has made Blue Poles a national treasure was like the NGA held up their end of the bargain,” she revealed.
“There are some very great Jackson Pollocks all around the world, but the way that this has become such an identified treasure is very special.”
“And Australia has housed it like a pearl.”
The new-look gallery will be open to the public from December 4.