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30 Nov 2007 09:13
The discovery was announced two years ago amid fanfare and to the astonishment of the art world: a dusty batch of 32 previously unknown Jackson Pollocks had been found in a Long Island storage locker dating from the important period of his early drip paintings, 1946 to 1949.
But a question mark now hangs over the paintings after a forensic scientist, who specialises in the authenticity of artworks, reported this week that several of the items contained pigments that had not been created at the time of the artist’s death in 1956.
James Martin delivered his findings to a gathering of art experts in New York on Wednesday night.
One of the paintings, he reported, was on a board that dated from the late 1970s at the earliest.
His report, based on chemical analysis of 23 of the paintings, will have a significant impact on the standing of the discovery, not least because Martin was commissioned by the owner of the works to establish whether or not they were genuine.
Doubts have swirled around the 32 items since Alex Matter, a New York filmmaker, first went public two years ago about what he had found when sorting through his late mother’s possessions in a storage unit in Wainscott, Long Island. His late father, Herbert Matter, was a photographer and a close friend of Pollock; they lived three doors apart.
The paintings were wrapped in brown paper with a description in Herbert’s handwriting of the contents as experimental works by Pollock.
In 2005 when the announcement was made, the batch would have been worth about $10-million.
At today’s astronomical prices it would be many times that amount; the record for a Pollock drip painting was set last November at $140-million.
Alex Matter’s lawyer, Jeremy Epstein, dismissed Martin’s scientific research as “incomplete and inconclusive”.
He told the Guardian: “It is possible that several pigments were available before Pollock’s death but were only patented afterwards.”
Matter has denied he has any intention of making money from the discovery, though reports suggest that he has sold a few of the paintings to dealers.
Martin refused on Thursday to go into further details on his research.He delivered his conclusions “at a talk in front of scholars.
It really wasn’t intended to attract worldwide publicity,” he said.
The date of the disputed items places them at just the time when Pollock began to develop his distinctive style of dripping or splashing paint against canvas or board.
But suspicions soon began to surface. The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which guards the legacy of the artist, expressed bemusement.
Tests by experts at Harvard University earlier this year also raised the possibility of pigments being used that postdated Pollock’s death.
But there have also been powerful voices in defence. Ellen Landau, a Cleveland professor globally renowned as a Pollock expert, said as recently as September that she thought the evidence pointed heavily towards the veracity of the story. But since then she has removed herself from the debate. Twenty-four of the disputed works are currently on display at the McMullen Museum of Art in Boston.
Ken Johnson, the critic of the Boston Globe, was certainly impressed. “If the two dozen small paintings are not by Jackson Pollock, then I’d like to congratulate whoever did make them,” he wrote.
“If they are not by the master, they are expert imitations.” - Guardian Unlimited Â
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