Before Varnedoe and Karmel's Pollock monograph, which accompanied the MOMA / Tate retrospective a few yeas ago, this was the best available text-and-plates book about Pollock. In terms of its text, this book is still relevant and insightful. Like Elizabeth Frank, Landau does a lot of truly eye-opening comparison work throughout her book. She'll reprint a work by Picasso, say, or a Native American artifact, or a Pollock sketch, and then analyze the influence it exerted on one of Pollock's key canvases.
And unlike the Varnedoe/Karmel book, this volume reprints these several kinds of works in close proximity, often on the same or a facing page, a useful feature. Landau's remarks about Pollock's sources, outcomes, growth and directions are always at least provocative and often really instructive, particularly in her coverage of the late black paintings. Indeed, Landau's analysis is regularly listed and praised in other authors' bibliographies.
The drawbacks of the book are its numerous poor reproductions, and plates after all make the primary reason for buying an artist monograph. Many of the plates are excellent and crisp--"Lucifer," "Pasiphae," "Autumn Rhythm," the colorful, playful works following Pollock's marriage. But too many of the plates and fold-outs are muddy, and Pollock's use of silver or aluminum paint is simply beyond this book's ability--as with the gaudy and over-exposed looking gatefold that opens the book. "Blue Poles" and "Stenographic Figure" are among the book's other poor reprints. Until I saw the Varnedoe/Karmel reprint of "One: Number 31, 1950," and then again in "person" at the MOMA, I just flatly didn't understand how Pollock had approached it. It looks "ok" in Landau, but with a lessened resolution that just slightly confuses the webbing throughout.
Still, I value the book and particularly its text. As for the reproduction quality, I did buy a second copy to cannibalize it; I've posted many laminated pages throughout my classroom. But I got that copy at remaindered prices. At full cost, this is a 3 1/2 or 4 star book. At bargain prices, the book rates 4 or 4 1/2 stars. Varnedoe/Karmel is just visually superior.
This intelligent and lavishly illustrated volume, which first appeared in a 1989 hardcover edition, covers Pollock's entire career, his early influences, and the progression of the themes, techniques, and accomplishments of his life as an artist. Ellen Landau's text is enlightening, but the best part of this book is, inevitably, the illustrations themselves, which are an unparalleled feast for the eyes. For those who want to experience and understand Pollock's art (rather than dwell on his personal problems) this is an excellent choice.