Monday, September 03, 2007

Update: “Pollocks”

Newly released information from two studies of a set of disputed “Jackson Pollock” paintings says that 17 of the 26 paintings studied so far contain materials that were patented after Pollock’s death. These paintings come from a cache of 34 done in Pollock’s style that the son of a Pollock friend, Alex Matter, says he found among his late father’s effects in 2002.

The findings were reported in the catalogue for the exhibit “Pollock Matters,” which opened at Boston College Saturday. Organizer Ellen Landau, a Pollock scholar at Case Western Reserve University, in collaboration with Boston College art historian Claude Cernuschi, has assembled more than 170 artworks and ephemera to make the groundbreaking argument that Matter’s father, the designer and photographer Herber Matter, was a key inspiration for Pollock’s signature poured paintings.

Three groups of scientists have now studied the “Pollocks” to date their materials based on when they were patented. The exhibition catalogue reports that the Williamstown firm Orion Analytical (whose findings have not been fully released) found that 16 of 23 Alex Matter paintings contained materials patented after Pollock died when he flipped his convertible near his Long Island home in 1956. The catalogue adds that scientists led by Richard Newman at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts studied six of the same paintings and concurred. They found one of three previously unexamined paintings included a red pigment patented by the Swiss firm “Ciba-Geigy in 1983 and apparently not introduced into the market until a few years later.” These studies corroborate a Harvard study released Jan. 29 that examined three of the same paintings Orion did and found that all of them contained materials patented after Pollock’s death.

Landau and Cernuschi write in the catalogue’s introduction that “the science of identifying and dating pigments … is not as hard and fast as if often assumed.” They argue that the patent reference books used to date the paintings may be inaccurate or incomplete. They add that the paints may have been custom or experimental paints from Herbert Matter’s brother-in-law’s art supplies shop in Switzerland and so may not appear even in good reference texts.

I hope get into more details over the coming week.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in background, I’ve already reported extensively on the Harvard study and debate surrounding these paintings. Try starting with this link.

“Pollock Matters,” McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Sept. 1 to Dec. 9, 2007.


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