A group of 32 disputed Jackson Pollock paintings discovered by Mr. Alex Matter have recently been put through the ringer at Harvard’s prestigious conservation labs. Several pigments unavailable during Pollock’s lifetime were found in parts of the paintings, making many scholars wary of their authenticity. Other experts have claimed they are indeed authentic. Ellen Landau, professor of art history at Case Western Reserve University and a well-regarded Pollock scholar, was one such expert who sided with Mr. Matter and supported the paintings as the work of Jackson Pollock.
At the heart of the findings is the evolving and sometimes bitter relationship between traditional scholarship and science. A decade ago Professor Landau’s word about the paintings might have been as sure as one can get. New and more complicated technologies for conservation and testing make the process of authenticity a much more complicated matter in today’s art world. Still, some are still not ready to take scientific findings as the final word. Mr. Matter, unsurprisingly, agrees with Dr. Landau’s findings and responded by saying, “the authentication of works of art is still more art than science.”
Of course, the findings have more to do with money than they do with understanding Pollock. It seems hard to believe that these works would shed further light on Pollock the painter, rather, would only serve to inflate the reputation of a museum and the pockets of the owner of the paintings. There is already a controversy between Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Pollock Matters” was to be the first venue for these disputed works set to open in June at the Everson. However, dealer Mark Borghi, who represents Alex Matter, assured McMullen Museum Director Nancy Netzer that he had pulled the works out of the Everson show. With public speakers and a marketing budget already spent, the Everson Museum will likely sue if the show is canceled. Either way, the Boston art community seems likely to have the works in town before long where the controversy will likely continue.