Just Maybe the Fake Is Better


Does Large Jackson Pollock-Style Drip Painting Belong in Museum of Modern Art?
Or the Thrift Store?

The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art's audience.
Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.

- Paul Gauguin

Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets.
Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

- Tom Stoppard

A Woman Truck Driver's 10-Year Saga To Prove Huge Canvas May Be an Authentic Pollock

Which one is the real Jackson Pollock?  Maybe both?

Scottsdale, Arizona - Is it or is it not a Jackson Pollock?  After a decade of exploration by several art experts, and a 9-month wait for review by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), the jury is still out on the authenticity of a large Jackson Pollock-style "drip" painting.  The owner's effort to authenticate the 66 x 48 inch canvas will continue, despite the disappointment with IFAR's 3 June response regarding the painting.  (IFAR is a not-for-profit educational and research organisation dedicated to integrity in the visual arts).

"Before this report, many art experts who examined the painting believed in its authenticity, and the consensus is that there are strong reasons to continue the research," said George Collins, CEO of AskART.com.

Jackson Pollock is one of the leading figures in American art.  He is usually ascribed to the Abstract Expressionism school, and his style is also called "Action Painting."  The artist is the subject of the Academy Award-winning movie Pollock, released in 2000.  The stakes are high, because if authenticated, the unsigned painting's value is estimated to be in the many millions of dollars.  The abstract painting is owned by a retired woman long-haul truck driver, who purchased the work for $5 in a roadside thrift shop.

Because IFAR's experts and researchers are held harmless from litigation and have no financial interest in the outcome, they are free to render objective opinions.  When a work is to be authenticated, experts on that particular artist are assembled, and they report their findings to the IFAR authentication board.  IFAR's analysis of the painting was based on visual observation only, and the group did not conduct a scientific analysis of paint scrapings or the canvas.  IFAR was largely concerned about the lack of a provenance, or history of ownership of the canvas.  IFAR members were also concerned about the actual drip marks; what they observed as the very early use of acrylic paint; and the use of what appears to be a commercially-primed canvas, each of which are generally uncharacteristic of Pollock's work.

While IFAR's selected Pollock experts declined to certify the painting, others have stepped forward to claim its authenticity.  Art forensics expert Paul Biro of Biro Fine Art Restoration and Forensic Studies in Art published a report in April 2001 that presented evidence that the canvas is a genuine Pollock.  Additionally, many renowned art experts who have seen the work have speculated that it could be a genuine Pollock, and none have dismissed this possibility during the past 10 years.

Why Is This Painting So Much Like A Pollock?

The thrift store painting is executed in dripped enamel, oils and other paints on canvas.  It is very similar to large dripped or poured paintings by Pollock from the late 1940s, his most collectible period.  Working in a barn that gallery owner and sponsor Peggy Guggenheim helped him buy in the Hamptons, Pollock would spread a canvas on the floor, where he flung and splattered paint onto it.  He would walk and crawl around the canvas, working from each side to build up the feeling he wanted.

The "maybe" Pollock work is a stimulating, and absorbing, galaxy of paint layers and carefully flung overmarkings which interweave across the surface.  Complex marbling formed on the flat canvas when various colours of thinned enamel, a typical Pollock medium, ran together while still wet.  Burgundy and black dominate the color composition, a palette that Pollock frequently used in the late '40s.  The canvas has dirt and paint marks on the back that indicate that it was painted while flat on the floor.

Truck Driver Finds Canvas in Roadside Thrift Store

The painting was acquired 10 years ago by the woman truck driver who was just beginning to learn about art.  She picked up the drip-style canvas in Dot's Thrift Shop near San Bernardino, California, as a gag for a friend who was down on her luck.  She thought the large, colourful painting would help cheer up her friend.

The buyer had no familiarity with Jackson Pollock, but her curiosity was piqued when an art teacher acquaintance noticed the painting's similarity to Pollock's classic work from his late 1940s period.  Thus began her 10-year odyssey to authenticate the canvas, starting at the art department at UCLA.  Next, an expert from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art suggested that it was authentic, prompting the owner to seek expert opinions.

She then contacted AskART.com, a web site recognised for its extensive content about American artists, to verify that she was on the right track.  AskART officials shared her enthusiasm for the authentication search, and helped her to locate and contact those who might identify the source of the painting.

"Helping to educate people about artists and their works of art is a major purpose of our endeavours," said CEO George Collins.  "We are enthusiastic about continuing to help where we can with the discovery process."

While the authentication process moved to the next level, the owner also searched online for Pollock's background, where the potential value of the painting became apparent to her.  She discovered that her painting is larger than any of the 59 Pollocks displayed in AskART's 15 year's worth of auction records - one of which had sold for $11.5 million.  She also learned that unsigned works are common for Pollock.  The owner found hundreds of Pollock book references that helped her continue her quest for authentication.

Next Steps

The owner of the painting will continue to show it to knowledgeable Pollock experts.  Determining the provenance is also a priority.  Pollock is considered nearly impossible to imitate because of the personal pattern of his drips, which were formed by his unique arm movements as well as his √¶sthetic eye.  A scientific analysis of paint scrapings and a fingerprint found on the canvas may be the owner's next step.

About Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is considered by many to be the commanding figure of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and his paintings from the 1950s are regarded as the peak of his career.  The "drip and splash" style, for which he is best known, emerged in the late 1940s when he began to affix his canvases to the floor and drip them with liquid enamel paint directly from the can, sometimes manipulating the paint with sticks, trowels, or knives.

Pollock is also associated with the introduction of the All-Over style of painting, which avoids any points of emphasis or identifiable parts within the whole canvas and therefore abandons the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among parts.  The design of his painting had no relation to the shape or size of the canvas, and his finished canvases were sometimes docked or trimmed to suit the image.  All these characteristics were important for the new American painting that matured in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In 2000, a film, Pollock, was released about the artist, directed by Ed Harris who also played the lead and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Marcia Gay Harden received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the role of Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife and early creative muse.

About AskART

AskART is an art resource database web site with free, and for-fee, information on nearly 27,000 American artists from the Colonial period to present day.  It is considered the most complete American artist database available on the Internet.  The site offers biographies, auction records, images, literature references, artworks for sale by dealers, references to 2800 museums and galleries, automated email notifications for artist updates, a glossary of art terms, and essays on various art movements.  The site is visited by collectors, dealers, art aficionados, educators, curators, appraisers, librarians, and students.  AskART is a privately held successor company to Encompass Incororated, originally founded in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1983.


Greg Kerwin
Ann Hill Communications
Telephone (415) 491-5901
Email: greg@ahcommunications.com

Source: An AskArt press release Thursday 13 June 2002; first photo credit AskART.com; second photo credit © 2001 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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