( Satoshi Kinoshita )
|Series: ||Works on paper: Drawings 2 |
|Medium: ||oil pastel and wax crayon on paper |
|Size (inches): ||25 x 19.9 |
|Size (mm): ||640 x 510 |
|Catalog #: ||WD_0100 |
|Description: ||Signed, date and copyright in pencil on the reverse. |
It looked like something resembling white marble, which was probably what it was: something resembling white marble.
-Douglas Adams/ www.painterskeys.com
"Is This a Real Jackson Pollock?" by RANDY KENNEDY (The New York Times) - Published: May 29, 2005.
ON the first floor of a nondescript Upper East Side town house one afternoon this month, an art dealer named Mark Borghi showed a visitor five small paint-encrusted boards that he handled as gingerly as if they were Fabergé eggs filled with nitroglycerine. In the art world, they may indeed be almost that explosive.
Mr. Borghi, a longtime dealer in modern paintings who has been burned in the past buying works that turned out to be clever fakes, said he was convinced that the Abstract Expressionist paintings in front of him were the real thing, and the discovery of a lifetime for any dealer: previously unknown early Jackson Pollock drip paintings, part of a trove of 32 paintings by the artist on boards and paper found two years ago in a metal storage bin in Wainscott, N.Y.
Unlike many recent supposed Pollock discoveries that have made the news - one supposedly bearing the artist's fingerprint, bought at a California thrift store for $5; another said to have come from one of Pollock's high school teachers - the works sitting that day in Mr. Borghi's gallery had a provenance that was particularly convincing.
They were found in 2003 by Alex Matter, the son of the graphic artist and photographer Herbert Matter and the painter Mercedes Matter, who were friends of Pollock and his wife, the artist Lee Krasner. The paintings, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, were included with other artworks and letters that the elder Mr. Matter had left with other personal effects after his death in 1984. According to Alex Matter, a filmmaker who remembers Pollock well from his childhood, his father's handwriting on the paper clearly labeled the works as being Pollocks painted in the late 1940's, paintings his father either bought or had been given by the artist. And in B. H. Friedman's 1972 biography of Pollock, Mr. Matter had indeed talked of buying small works from Pollock in the late 1940's.
But in the two weeks since the news of the works' existence - delivered with the help of a Web site and a flurry of press releases - an intense and at times personal battle over who really painted them has been shaping up within a small, once unified group of the world's leading Pollock experts.
The case - evoking the inevitable images of the Cedar Bar and the heyday of the New York School - has cast a new spotlight on the contentious field of art authentication, in which paper trails can remain shadowy, doubts can linger for decades and even experts sure of their findings are often afraid to speak because of the threat of lawsuits. Within this world, the work of authenticating Pollocks has been particularly divisive. This is partly because of the sheer quantity of paintings that have surfaced since the artist died in 1956; forgers apparently feel that faking his frenetic drips is easier than, say, faking a Raphael. And because of the seven-figure prices that real Pollocks command, fights over authenticity nearly always end up in the courts and in the news. (Some experts have speculated that if real, the newly discovered works could collectively fetch as much as $10 million.)
On one side of the new dispute is Ellen G. Landau, the author of a well-regarded 1989 Pollock biography, who says she firmly believes that the works are real and has agreed to work with Mr. Borghi and Mr. Matter to create an exhibition of the paintings to open next year, the 50th anniversary of Pollock's death.
But since the works and Dr. Landau's role in supporting them were announced, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which has declined to be involved in authentication cases for almost a decade, has entered the fray. "What we're talking about now is newly discovered works of a magnitude that is unprecedented in terms of numbers," said Ronald D. Spencer, a lawyer for the foundation, which was created by Lee Krasner. "It requires the foundation to rethink its involvement in Pollock authorship questions."
Toward that end, it is now enlisting its own group of experts, including Eugene V. Thaw, a veteran art dealer who, along with Francis V. O'Connor, wrote the four-volume catalogue raisonné, or complete listing, of Pollock's work, regarded as the definitive word on authenticity.
In a recent phone interview, Mr. Thaw said that based on his viewing of seven of the paintings earlier this year - Mr. Borghi flew with them to Mr. Thaw's home in Santa Fe, N.M. - he strongly disagrees with Dr. Landau. And though he stressed that he was wary of being sued, he left no doubt about his views.
"I've spent nearly half my life working on Pollocks, and if Ellen Landau's opinion prevails, people will happily buy them and they'll go into museums and books," he said, "but not the ones that I have anything to do with." (Mr. Thaw also accuses Mr. Borghi of misrepresenting him by telling people that Mr. Thaw deemed the paintings authentic; Mr. Borghi denies doing so.)
The public disagreement between Dr. Landau and Mr. Thaw is more surprising because these two experts - along with Mr. O'Connor and another leading Pollock scholar, William Lieberman - worked as a team for several years on the Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board, established by the foundation to examine and rule (for no charge) on disputed works. The board was frequently sued by would-be Pollock owners, whose cases sometimes verged on the ridiculous. (In one, court records show that a man added a signature to the back of a drip painting but spelled it "Pollack." When the board declared the painting fake he sued, and lost.)
The board disbanded in 1996 for reasons that remain unclear, and afterward its members declined to become involved individually in authentication, though Dr. Landau, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said she still receives many e-mail messages from people claiming to have found a Pollock.
"My stock response is that 'I'm sorry. I don't do private authentication, and I don't open e-mail attachments I'm not expecting,' " she said in a recent phone interview.
But when Mr. Borghi contacted her in the late summer of 2004 and wanted to show her drip paintings he said were owned by Herbert Matter, she said she felt compelled to give them a look. "My interest was piqued because all my research told me that they had been very good friends," she said, adding: "I must admit that I kind of broke my rule, so to say." And when she later saw the works during a trip to New York, she felt her decision was justified. "I was completely blown away," she said, calling them "the scholarly thrill of a lifetime."
Dr. Landau said that beyond Mr. Matter's connection, several factors led her to believe the works were authentic. Many are painted on artists' drawing boards that are blue on one side. Herbert Matter used this type of board and would have had it in his studio in Tudor City in Manhattan, where Pollock is thought to have worked occasionally. Dr. Landau said she found the same kinds of boards in Pollock's studio in Springs on Long Island. Of the paintings themselves, she said: "It's his kind of gesture and his kind of marking." She added that at least one painting incorporates the initials "j" and "p," as Pollock did in other work. "There are too many things about them that are pure Jackson."
But Mr. Thaw argues that the boards work against a Pollock attribution. None of his other works were painted on such boards, he said, and he found it unlikely that Pollock would have borrowed Matter's material. "It's an explanation, but I don't think it's a plausible explanation," he said, adding that his examination of the seven paintings and of photographs of the rest convinced him that they were not all done by the same person. "There are several different handwritings in that batch," he said, referring to the whorls, loops and splatters of paint.
Mr. Thaw's disagreement with Ms. Landau sometimes seems a bit personal as well, strengthened by his anger that she did not contact him or other former members of the authentication board when she became aware of the works. "I think it's sort of unnatural, unseemly," said Mr. Thaw, who added later in the conversation: "We should have been included in it from the start. We certainly would have made some effort at that time if Ellen Landau had brought this particularly sensational discovery to our attention."
But Mr. Matter said he did try early on to enlist Mr. Thaw and the foundation in the authentication process through a veteran dealer with ties to both, Joan Washburn, who represents part of the Pollock estate. Those efforts went nowhere, he said, so he turned to Mr. Borghi, whom he had earlier selected to represent his mother's estate. "I needed advice, pure and simple," he said. Two months before the announcement was made, Dr. Landau and Mr. Borghi also visited the foundation in New York, but officials there only reminded them that the group was no longer involved in authentication.
Of course, a big question inevitably raised in the case is: Who stands to profit? Mr. Matter says he has no immediate plans to sell the works and instead intends to give some to institutions and to keep the rest. "Basically, I never say never, but if you had to ask me right now I wouldn't," he said. He also said that he had made no promises to Mr. Borghi about the dealer having any stake if there were a sale.
Dr. Landau said she is being paid - she declines to say how much - to organize the show, but she stressed that her motivation was academic. "I have never been paid by either the estate or the gallery to authenticate the works," she said by e-mail. "Nor have I been promised any stake in future sales (should there be any), or promised any works in return for my art-historical expertise. My fee solely covers the curatorial work and essays I will submit."
And while she is reluctant to spar publicly with Mr. Thaw, who once gave a party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate one of her books, she raised clear questions about his motivations and those of Mr. O'Connor, who have both bought and sold Pollock works.
"One of the advantages I bring" to the project "is my objectivity," she wrote. "Unlike the authors of the Pollock catalogue raisonné, I have never been involved in buying or selling works by Pollock. I am an art historian with an impeccable reputation, not an art dealer." (Through the foundation, Mr. O'Connor declined to comment for this article. The foundation also said that Mr. Lieberman, who is in bad health, would not be available to comment.)
An even bigger question that remains as the case plays out it: If they're not Pollocks, who did paint them? Mr. Thaw has theories. "Anyone - Mercedes herself or her students or a combination of both - could have tried to do Pollock imitations on cardboard," he said.
But Mr. Matter finds that suggestion ludicrous. "He has no idea who my mother is as a painter, as an artist," he said. "She would rather kill herself than try and copy somebody else's work. It's beyond even comprehension."
Mr. Thaw said he also found it hard to believe that Mercedes Matter, who died in 2001, would not have known about the paintings. But Mr. Matter said that his parents sometimes quarreled over selling works - he said that they almost divorced after she sold a treasured Giacometti statue - and that he might well have hidden the works from her. "He knew that she might sell something at any moment," he said.
Are they really Pollocks? In the end, unfortunately, even after the foundation renders its opinion and the works go on view for a curious public, the answer may end up being no more than a definite maybe - leaving them in a limbo that perhaps only disputed works by Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí can rival in modern art.
Mr. Borghi said that such a fate would be the art world's loss. "In the academic world, scholars can disagree," he said, "but this seems mean-spirited to me."
Mr. Thaw says he fully believes he is right, but he sounds at times as if he hopes that he is proven wrong.
"Nobody wants to prevent these paintings from being seen," he said. "Put them up, let them be seen, let them be examined."
"There's nothing I would like more," he said, "than to find more Pollocks."
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