Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles valued at $500 million
The value of the collection underscores its importance as the NGA faces a financial cliff in June this year when a short-term funding injection of $24.77 million ends. The gallery is considering drastic measures, including forced redundancies, closing the Canberra building two days a week, and the possible reintroduction of entry fees.
The cultural institution also faces a $265 million funding shortfall over the next 10 years to waterproof its 40-year-old building — a project essential to protecting its multibillion-dollar collection.
Chiara O’Reilly, director of museum and heritage studies at the University of Sydney, said the gallery bought things, but Blue poles’ intrinsic value was indicative of modern nationhood.
“That painting is a giant of American art history and now holds this incredible place in Australian cultural identity,” she said. “Part of it is the infamy it had when it was bought, it grew interest in the painting and it became something that had this national reputation before the gallery opened.
“That’s what gets me down. It lives in this crate, it travels the country, it becomes this thing that everyone has an opinion about. That painting inspired writers, artists and students. It all comes down to Mollison and Gough Whitlam and their vision for Australia. It was, and remains to this day, a wonderful chance to reflect on the question of ‘Who are we?'”
National Gallery of Australia’s most valuable works of art. Credit: National Gallery of Australia
Pollock’s Blue Poles is by far the most valuable painting in the gallery’s collection, which contains 155,717 individual works of art, the 2022 valuation shows. The gallery’s top 10 valuable works are all by internationally renowned artists who were purchased when Mollison formed the national collection .
James Mollison, director of the National Gallery of Australia, and former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam stand in front of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles in 1986. Credit: Canberra Times
Claude Monet’s Meules, milieu du jour (Hay Mountains), and Nympheas [Waterlilies] are now worth $174.2 million and $130.6 million, respectively. The gallery’s second most valuable object is Constantin Brancusi’s L’Oiseau dans l’espace (Bird in Space), which O’Reilly considers an under-recognized gem. The two sculptures are worth $290.3 million. Francis Bacon’s Triptych is now worth $217.7 million.
“Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles is by far the most valuable work of art in the National Collection because it is one of the most important works of the 20th century,” said gallery director Nick Mitzevich.
“It is an exemplary painting of the Abstract Expressionism movement and was the final installment in a series of works by Pollock that changed the course of modern art.”
O’Reilly says the gallery’s purchases for its 40th anniversary reflected a turn towards Australian art. “You hope that in the future we will be just as excited to see the Indigenous memorial or one of the enormous Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s or other Indigenous works. Every cultural institution buys for the long term and not for the now or financial benefit. They are buying for the nation, and it is important to remember they are buying for the public.”
A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Subscribe to our Culture Fix newsletter here.