Secret Art Graves — Visiting the Cemeteries Where the Titans of American Art are Tucked Away: This Journey Into the Unknown is Anything But Routine

BY // 10.31.18

SPRINGS, New York — Everyone knows about Andy Warhol’s gravesite — thanks to the late Pop master’s perpetual live cam from his final resting place in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

But few are aware that the 20th century’s greatest abstract painter is buried beneath a boulder — in an off-the-beaten-path cemetery alongside other titans of American art.

On the Trail of Art History

Only locals and a small flock of the curious have visited the modest, albeit beautiful, cemetery in the hamlet of Springs, New York, where among those interned is the painter who forged the Abstract Expressionist movement — Jackson Pollock.

Pollock was of the post-World War II generation whose talent and tenacity transformed New York into the capital of modern art.

Along with Warhol, Picasso, and Dalí, he is one of the artists best known by the public in perpetuity thanks to this article that appear in Life almost 70 years ago.

His final resting place is hard to miss once you get there. His burial is marked by a massive (reportedly 50-ton) boulder sourced from the surrounding wooded area, in a cemetery hidden in plain site in a small, originally blue-collar, town now nestled among the glittering retreat of America’s most wealthy — in East Hampton.

Introducing Pêche

  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
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  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024

But you’ll find few tourists there — Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York, is the province of art-world insiders who want to trek to the Hamptons but prefer Springs’ less glitzy energy. You’ll find them blending with the locals and sitting on the front porch of the nearby community coffee and lunch spot, Springs General Store, where Pollock famously bartered an Ab Ex canvas for groceries.

Art pilgrims also voyage to the Pollock-Krasner House, which is within walking distance of the cemetery (ask at the house for a map of who’s who in the graves at Green River, which is approximately a mile and a half from the house museum).

The day and time of my cemetery excursion was an early afternoon mid-fall, after checking out the Pollock-Krasner House — a surprisingly simple, vernacular country home of the late Victorian era, sited upon lush grounds and facing an expansive field. Nearby to the house where Pollock and Krasner’s tumultuous marriage took place was the barn-like studio where the canvases that birthed the Ab Ex movement came to be.

Now back to our cemetery discovery. With the exception of a local family, a senior and her granddaughter, tending to a several generations of their family plot, our group of two were the sole visitors to Green Valley this golden autumn afternoon.

Only a simple wooden sign marks Green River, which is set upon a rolling three-plus acres. The cemetery dates from 1902, but features a scattering of graves from the Civil War era before it was incorporated. It is a nonprofit, and nondenominational.

Fifty Tons Marks the Spot

Alongside a hilly rise in the back, a grand monument formed from a boulder commanded our attention; its emphatic bronze plaque bore in hand-written script — the artist’s signature — the name of the illustrious painter interned there, Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock’s monument, a 50-ton boulder sourced from the area, caps a hill at the back of Green River Cemetery. Its dramatic size serves as a fitting tribute to the talent whose paint splatters and drips launched Abstract Expressionism.

In keeping with the Jewish tradition of honoring the dead, stones were placed on top of the grave, and in this case, all along the top of Pollock’s mammoth boulder.

There was also a shattered champagne flute, which seemed either a metaphor for Pollock’s life cut short, or an allusion to the ritual of breaking a drinking vessel at a Jewish wedding.

Across from Pollock, his wife, painter Lee Krasner, had her own natural marker — another rock, but far more modest in size, dwarfed by her husband’s grave.

After paying respects to this couple from the art history books — years ago, when I worked at Meredith Long & Company, the gallery exhibited Krasner’s works so it was fitting to visit her final resting place — I took an ambling tour of Green River.

Scroll through the photo slideshow above this story to see more of the luminaries of 20th century art and letters whose home for eternity is this unprepossessing graveyard.

Read the controversy surrounding this quiet little cemetery, which the late great American painter Stuart Davis (another Green River resident), quipped “Everyone is dying to get in to.” And what the locals say here.

Encountering Green River was one of many highlights of my recent visit to East Hampton, made specifically to check out the Elaine de Kooning House.

The home’s owner Chris Byrne — best known as an independent curator and the co-founder of the Dallas Art Fair — was a generous and informed host and Sherpa, both as to the organic residency he has launched and the surrounding, often under-the-radar side of the Hamptons, particularly its storied history with visual artists — as exemplified by our afternoon at Green River.

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