Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why all the love for the "Matter Pollocks"?

Geoff Edgers has been doing a bang-up job reporting on the ongoing imbroglio at CitiCenter - so why does he suddenly go all mushy when reporting on the "Matter Pollocks" (a particularly yucky one is at left)? Incredibly, the McMullen Museum at Boston College is going ahead with "Pollock/Matters," an exhibit that supposedly explores the relationship between Jackson Pollock and the Swiss-born photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter, but is transparently a vehicle for keeping afloat the possibility that a cache of small Pollock-like paintings "discovered" by Alex Matter a few years back are truly by the master. "Now you can decide for yourself," the Globe helpfully explains, as if, Bush-administration-like, we were all free to create our own personal art-historical reality (I've personally decided that La Grande Jatte is by Thomas Kinkade).

It took one glance for me to decide the "Matter Pollocks" were junk - either outright fakes or so bad that Pollock hid them out of embarrassment. Over the past months, of course, the evidence has tilted toward fakery: a Harvard study declared some of the pigments weren't available in the U.S. in Pollock's lifetime, and soon after it came to light that another study, by forensics scientist James Martin, had for all intents and purposes been suppressed by Alex Matter. Since then, it's been announced that the paintings will be hung at the McMullen without attribution (Thomas Kinkade, anyone?) and the show's curator, Ellen Landau, has been spinning possible explanations for those problem pigments (she has hinted they may have come from a shop in Switzerland - after all, Pollock pal/promoter Herbert Matter - at left - was Swiss).

Yeah, and maybe that Martin report should simply be released! It's possible, I suppose, that the "Matter Pollocks" are actually just really bad, but authentic, Pollocks, done in Swiss paint - but no university should be involved in presenting a show in which a key piece of evidence has been withheld from the public. There's a longwinded explanation from the McMullen about how Martin was invited to include his findings in the show's catalogue, but refused (for reasons that remain unclear). The point is that whether or not the Martin report backs up Matter's claims is simply immaterial; the fact that it exists, but is not included in the show, makes the McMullen's methods and intents suspect, and inconsistent with what we think of as normal academic standards. Essentially, the McMullen could be viewed by those unsympathetic to Ms. Landau as colluding with Alex Matter in a deception which could reap him millions. Is that sort of activity part of the Boston College charter? The university should be backing away from the "Matter Pollocks" - or at the very least demanding that the show not go on without public access to Martin's report.


  1. Lots of applause for this one!

    Mr. Martin, a well-respected scientist among his peers and other colleagues, has been treated shabbily by the McMullen Museum.

  2. Just btw, over at the Exhibitionist on boston.com, Thomas Hoving has suggested that these "experimental Pollocks" might actually have been painted by art students - apparently it was common for students to "do a Pollock" the same way they might copy an Old Master. I have to say this sounds surprisingly plausible - and how amusing if the McMullen should be showcasing a series of art school sketches

  3. Regarding Mr. Garvey's comments:

    "Plausible," but unlikely. The Harvard University report shows that two of the pigments in these paintings were not available until the 1970s at the earliest. Moreover, the paintings in question were treated by a paintings conservator before they were shown to anyone.

    This whole episode is not "amusing." I like a good joke as well as anyone, but the original claim was that these are real Pollocks.

  4. I was being ironic, of course - the situation is not "amusing," it's deplorable. The intriguing point, however, that the Hoving hypothesis might explain is that the paintings were labeled "Pollock experiments."

  5. Ironic "Pollock experiments" ...

    Since these paintings contain pigments not known in Pollock's time -- all the way down to the support surface -- and since they were treated by a conservator prior to Harvard's examination, they couldn't be Pollock experiments.

    "Experiments in the style of Pollock"? "School of Pollock"? Now those are jokes I can laugh at.

    Mox nix: Today's the day we find out if Richard Newman's catalog essay has a footnoted reference to James Martin's report, which is more complete than the Harvard report.

  6. This reminds me of the Article in the New Yorker recently about wine that supposedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The original seller has refused to tell anyone where he found the bottles, an important fact that may shed light on the bottles authenticity.