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More than two dozens paintings at the center of an art world controversy are on view for the first time since their discovery five years ago. The works may or may not be by the late abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, but they're now on view at Boston College.
WBUR's Abigail Beshkin reports.
ABIGAIL BESHKIN: First some background: In 2002, filmmaker Alex Matter was sorting through his parent's belongings. His mother had just died. His father died in 1984.
Mr. ALEX MATTER (Filmmaker): We came upon this package and described on the front: Pollocks, and when they were painted, and that they were experimental, a whole bunch of information that my father had written down.
BESHKIN: Alex Matter's father, Herbert Matter, was a well-known photographer and graphic designer and a close friend of Jackson Pollock's. The discovery made headlines. The Pollock-Krasner Foundation had photographs of several of the works analyzed. The study deemed patterns in them inconsistent with known Pollock paintings. Then, a Harvard study analyzed three of the paintings themselves and concluded some of the paints were not available during Pollock's lifetime.
For the Boston College exhibition, Boston Museum of Fine Arts scientist, Richard Newman, analyzed nine works with mixed results: Five very well might have been painted by Pollock. One even includes an extra clue.
Professor RICHARD NEWMAN (Fine Arts Scientist, Boston Museum): This particular painting also contains one fingerprint at the right edge of the painting.
BESHKIN: That print matches one of a paint can from Pollock's studio. But other pictures raised problems. Newman points to one that's primarily black with bumblebee yellow splatters.
Prof. NEWMAN: There are some very small red specs invisible in various places, and the red specs contained a particular pigment that was not patented until 1983. That's one of the most problem any pigments from the point-of-view of dating from a recurrently - we currently understand about when it became available.
BESHKIN: That rust phrase is key according to the exhibition's curator Ellen Landau. Landau is a professor at Case Western Reserve University. She says some pigments in question may have come from Herbert Matter's brother-in-law, a Swiss paint dealer. The paints may not show up in patent records because Pollock may have had them before they were patented.
Professor ELLEN LANDAU (Case Western Reserve University): We need to do a little bit more digging around to see whether it's possible that that paints could have come from Switzerland that were not typically available in the United States at the time that these works, theoretically, were done.
BESHKIN: For the current exhibition, which is called "Pollock Matters," Landau has focused mostly on the friendship between Pollock the painter and Herbert Matter, the photographer. In her essay for the exhibition catalog, Landau writes that Matter, in fact, influenced Pollock. But the catalog does not include another recent study, one commissioned by Alex Matter that should raise questions says Pollock-Krasner Foundation attorney, Ronald Spencer.
Mr. RONALD SPENCER (Lawyer, Pollock-Krasner Foundation): We have a reason to think that this report will confirm the Harvard date report. Now, if that's the case, the public going to this exhibition should know that.
BESHKIN: Boston College says it invited the report's author, James Martin, to publish in the catalog but that he declined reportedly over fears of being sued by Alex Matter. If the paintings are authenticated, Matter could stand to make a lot of money. But Matter insists that more important than the money is the recognition the show gives his late father.
Mr. MATTER: They have created this whole show and a legacy of my father that never existed before. If nobody ever wants to buy them and I'm not even sure I want to sell them but if nobody wanted to buy them, that's fine.
BESHKIN: Organizers at the McMullen Museum at Boston College agree, saying the focus should be not on the controversy itself but on the scholarship that's been generated as a result of these controversial paintings.
For NPR News, I'm Abigail Beshkin in Boston.
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