Who better to strain the connoisseur’s fine balance of art and science than Jack the Dripper, the guy who didn’t even have a brushstroke. The NYT reports to us today on one of the most befuddling cases of art authentication plaguing the world’s currently most expensive painter.
a group of 32 paintings and other pieces that Alex Matter, the son of the photographer Herbert Matter, said he found in 2002 among his father’s possessions in a Long Island storage locker. Inside a dusty brown wrapper with handwriting saying, “Jackson experimental works (gift & purchase)” and “Pollock (1946-49),” the paintings were in the unmistakably drippy, droppy, swirling style of Jackson Pollock, a close friend of the elder Matter’s.
Ellen Landau, a well-regarded Pollock scholar, once served on a board whose job was to sort out numerous fakes from genuine Pollocks. Using little more than her eyes and her extensive knowledge of the artist’s work, she said she believed the paintings were authentic. But her pronouncement, one that might have been accepted as something close to gospel only a few decades ago, especially given the close friendship between Pollock and Matter, proved but an opening salvo in a public battle over who painted the works.
Immediately the scene has been set for a classic manipulation of the art market through a leveraging of provenance and expertise. With an artist as recent as Pollock, the amount of people who could conceivably have received paintings from the notoriously unstable alcoholic is large. And so that Matter should have had some is perfectly believable. Dr. Landau’s role is more troubling. The Art World (outside of France) has never worked up a systematic method of conferring expertise, or the role of The Decider. With someone as prominent as Pollock, it’s not surprising that we have competing claims of authority. And here’s from a few days earlier, also on the same topic:
But after Dr. Landau’s role in supporting the works was announced in 2005, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which had declined to enter into authentication disputes for almost a decade, became involved. It enlisted Eugene V. Thaw, a veteran art dealer, and Francis V. O’Connor, an art historian, who wrote the four-volume catalogue raisonné, or complete listing, of Pollock’s work. Both scholars disagreed strongly with Dr. Landau, with whom they had previously served on a board that examined paintings to determine whether they were genuine.
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation knew what they were doing when they hired Thaw and O’Connor to write a catalogue raisonné. In as much as anything confers title of The Decider, it is writing up the list of everything the artist did. Other thing to note is that the heirs to painters often end up being the ones allowed to anoint The Decider by hiring them to write the catalogue raisonné. This allowed them seal Dripper’s oeuvre, and prevent any further market saturation.
Now the story just got a lot more interesting when scientists from Harvard University Art Museums examined 3 works from the Matter collection (including the one you see above), and performed chemical analysis on them. Result was that they found pigments that did not exist yet in 1956, when Pollock flipped over the Oldsmobile convertible.
In the case of one of the three paintings, which is dominated by bright orange drips and splashed curlicues [the one you see above], the analysis found a pigment in the orange paint that was not available until 1971. That work and another of the three also contained substances within the paints that were “most likely” not available until 1962 or 1963, according to the report. A third painting, which was badly damaged and heavily restored, was found to contain a brown paint that was developed in the early 1980s and did not come onto the market until 1986.
The questions that occur based on these findings are the following:
1. Is there any way Pollock could have acquired or mixed pigments that were not commercially available yet?
2. If these were genuine Pollock’s but with later re-touches, would they have any market value?
3. Even if these were genuine, why would anyone want them anyway?
Drip Wars [NYT]