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A very public battle has erupted over some small paintings that could be worth a lot of money. Last spring, headlines trumpeted the discovery of 32 previously unknown works believed to have been painted by the late Jackson Pollock. Since then, the foundation representing the artist's estate has cast doubt on their authenticity. Today a major Pollock scholar presented research contradicting that assertion. From New York, Jon Kalish reports.
JON KALISH reporting:
Herbert and Mercedes Matter were close friends of Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner. After his parents passed away, Alex Matter found the paintings in his father's storage facility on Long Island. They were wrapped in a package marked in Herbert Matter's handwriting, Pollock 1946 to 1949. Given this history, Pollock scholar Ellen Landau says, they have a better than average chance of being authentic.
Ms. ELLEN LANDAU (Art History Professor, Case Western Reserve University): This isn't something that the person bought in an antique show or found in an attic. We know that this was one of Jackson Pollock's best friends. And he is a very reputable and admired graphic designer. He was a man of great moral probity.
KALISH: Landau is an art history professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a major Pollock scholar. This afternoon she presented the results of her research into the relationship between Pollock and the Matters at a gathering of the College Art Association in Boston. Landau was once a member of the board that authenticated Pollock paintings.
So is Francis V. O'Connor, who compiled a Catalogue Raisone, or complete listing of Pollock's work. But this recent discovery has pitted Landau against O'Connor in an acrimonious debate. Landau is working with Alex Matter in the gallery representing him. O'Connor is with the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. He hung up on NPR when asked if he would consent to a recorded interview.
But in published reports, O'Connor has been quoted as suggesting that these 32 paintings looked like they were done by more than one person, perhaps students of Mercedes Matter. Sally Bo Andrews thinks that's unlikely. She studied with Matter in the late 1980's.
Ms. SALLY BO ANDREWS (Painter): She would not have asked any of her students to paint in the style of any artist. It just does not ring true for Mercedes as a teacher.
KALISH: There are other indications that the paintings might not be authentic. Apparently, without the knowledge of Professor Landau or Alex Matter, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation sent photographs of six of the works to a physics professor at the University of Oregon. Richard Taylor used a technique called fractal analysis, which utilizes different magnifications to detect recurring patterns in apparently chaotic systems, like a Jackson Pollock painting. Taylor concluded that the patterns in the six newly discovered works were inconsistent with those of known Pollock's.
Landau and others have suggested Taylor should have used a larger sample. The gallery representing Alex Matter sent about a half a dozen actual paintings to the Straus Center for Conservation at Harvard University. Narayan Khandekar is a senior conservation scientist there. He says his team is trying to analyze the materials used in the paintings, not the techniques.
Mr. NARAYAN KHANDEKAR (Scientist, Straus Center for Conservation): What we can say is that the materials are consistent with what was available at that time. And the type of work that we do can disprove an attribution, but we never can prove an attribution.
Mr. ROBERT ROSENBLUM (Professor of Art History, New York University): Attribution problems for art historians are the equivalent of wrestling or boxing matches.
KALISH: Robert Rosenblum is a professor of Art History at New York University and a member of the board that authenticates work attributed to Andy Warhol.
Mr. ROSENBLUM: Very, very famous scholars working on Rubens or Rafael have been absolutely, you know, at loggerheads with each other, hating each other, writing nasty articles. So it's by no means an unfamiliar situation.
KALISH: The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which disbanded the Pollock Authentication Board about 10 years ago, declined to be interviewed for this report. Because of its concerns over the authenticity of the paintings, Alex Matter discovered, Matter and the Manhattan gallery representing him have postponed an exhibition that was to have coincided with the 50th anniversary of Jackson Pollock's death.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish, in New York.
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