Monday, March 05, 2007

Update: New ‘Pollocks’?

Art critic Steven Litt had an extensive update in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer on the Pollock-look-alike paintings Alex Matter says he found in 2002. Litt, the reporter who has published the most extensive digging into the story behind these disputed “Pollocks,” adds much detail about Matter’s version of events.

Litt reports that when a show including the disputed “Pollocks” opens at Boston College in September, “Matter said that all available research on the paintings will be revealed … including the opinions of experts not already on the record who will back up Landau's convictions.” (Ellen Landau is the chief Pollock authority still supporting the authenticity of the Matter “Pollocks.") We’ll see.

Part of the argument for attributing the paintings to Pollock is that they were allegedly found wrapped in brown paper marked with detailed notations mentioning Pollock that maybe were written by Matter’s father, Herbert, who was a pal of Pollock’s. Litt reports:
Matter also remembers thinking that the haphazard wrapping around the paintings was not typical of his father.

"He was very meticulous, and this was not meticulous at all, which leads me to believe that he did not treasure these things – that he knew something about them that did not make them very important. He didn't consider them works that Pollock would have wanted circulated and out there. That's my guess."
Could they have been unimportant to Matter's pop because they weren't really Pollocks? (And, uh, if the paintings ain't really Pollocks, might the note not be real as well?)

My reporting and interviews have focused on the science and methods behind a January Harvard report that said the paintings include pigments not available during Pollock’s lifetime. (See my previous posts here, here and here.) And I don’t find any new information in Litt’s report that seriously challenges Harvard’s findings.

One argument for the authenticity of the “Pollocks” is that restoration of the paintings contaminated the works before Harvard studied them. However, the Harvard folks report that they were careful to rule out the materials the restorer used. Also, note that in Pollock-style paintings it is often easy to tell which paint was put down first because of the way the lines of paint overlap. Harvard conservation scientist Narayan Khandekar told me that some of the paints they found that weren’t available during Pollock’s lifetime are among the bottom layers of paint in the compositions.

Landau, who is helping organize the BC show, continues to push her theory that here Pollock used paints obtained from Matter’s uncle who ran an art supply shop in Switzerland – and that the patent dates that Harvard researchers used to date the pigments failed to include European patents. However, the Harvard team did reference European patents (as I went into detail about here).

Landau still seems to find all this scientific analysis a foreign concept – which may have something to do with her confidence in attributing these paintings to Pollock. Litt quotes her saying: "No other Pollocks that have come to light have ever been subjected to this kind of scrutiny. That was not standard operating procedure."

But just ignore the stuff about using fractal analysis of Pollock’s compositions to determine the paintings’ authenticity. It still seems an unreliable method – at least at this point in its evolution.

A few more interesting Litt tidbits:
"I don't know if these are ever going to sell or if I'll want to sell them," Matter said. "If they ever do get authenticated and accepted, I'd like to donate most of them to museums."

Landau, who said she has no financial stake in the paintings, said they inspired her to explore the little-known link between Herbert Matter's experimental "action photography" and Pollock's breakthrough to "action painting."

"The discovery of this package alerted me to the fact that there was a closer relationship between Herbert Matter and Jackson Pollock than anyone had recognized," she said. "I want my discoveries to become part of the Pollock lore."
This fascinating relationship will be part of the focus of the BC show.

(Thanks to the Exhibitionist for the Litt link.)


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