In the late 1930s, long before he developed his pioneering drip paintings, Jackson Pollock made a single, solitary mosaic. That work, created for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project, is currently on view in the inaugural Chelsea exhibition at New York’s Washburn Gallery, which moved this month after 25 years on 57th Street.
“It was rejected by the WPA,” Joan Washburn, who founded the gallery in 1971, told artnet News at the exhibition opening. “It was the only mosaic Pollock ever did.”
The piece stands four and a half feet tall, a vaguely Cubist looking composition featuring a variety of bright colors. As far as Washburn knows, there is no record indicating why the WPA turned it down.
Between 1935 and 1943, the government agency was responsible for commissioning murals, sculptures, posters, photography, and other artworks from over 5,000 American artists. That massive undertaking, paired with the Trump administration’s recent—and so far unfulfilled—threats to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, inspired the current exhibition.
Pollock was just one of the now-famous artists who, struggling to make ends meet during the Depression, were employed by the government as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Washburn Gallery has brought together a selection of works created for the WPA by such greats as Philip Guston, Stuart Davis, and Lee Krasner.
According to Washburn, these artists wouldn’t have survived without assistance from the WPA. “There…