Exclusive: Mystery painting by Jackson Pollock? - East Valley Tribune: News

Exclusive: Mystery painting by Jackson Pollock?

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Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 6:46 pm | Updated: 9:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A few thousand miles away, hidden under lock and key, lies a painting that could change Joan Rodgers' life.

A painting that, if proven authentic, could potentially make the 62-year-old Scottsdale real estate agent a multimillionaire.

Rodgers is the latest person to publicly come forward with the claim that she may own a Jackson Pollock painting.

She joins a growing group of those asserting they own Pollock works that include Teri Horton of Costa Mesa, Calif., the subject of a documentary called "Who The #$&% is Jackson Pollock," and Norman Wasserman of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose abstract painting ignited a debate in the early 1990s among Pollock scholars.

Despite leading Pollock scholars' opinions that her painting, with its mysterious history, is not authentic, Rodgers is revving up her battle with forensic analysis, hoping to prove the Pollock experts wrong. Rodgers said preliminary studies by two forensic art experts she's hired have kept alive her hope that the painting is authentic.

40-YEAR SAGA

Rodgers' story begins on an October day nearly 40 years ago at an art auction in King of Prussia, Pa. An antiques dealer living in East Northport, Long Island, N.Y., at the time, Rodgers and her now-former husband John Rodgers happened upon a group of canvases nestled against a wall in a barn on the auction grounds.

"There was this large canvas. I turned it around. It was just as colorful as it could be," Rodgers recalled in an exclusive interview with the Tribune at her north Scottsdale home, amid a stack of photographs, receipts and documents relating to her painting that she's accumulated over the years.

"Down at the bottom I saw a signature that said 'Jackson Pollock,'" said Rodgers. She said she was told by the auctioneer that the abstract-style paintings she came across had been there for years and were part of an estate.

Pollock was an American painter who made a name for himself with his abstract impressionist art work. Pollock's most notable works were created in what's known as his "drip period," between 1947 and 1950. The artist died in his mid-40s in 1956 in a car crash on Long Island, where he lived.

According to published reports, Pollock's painting, known as #5, sold for $140 million two years ago.

At the auction, Rodgers said she decided to take a chance on the multicolored 46-by-32-inch abstract painting.

After all, she had struck gold unexpectedly at estate and yard sales before.

Once, on an outing at a yard sale on the north shore of Long Island, Rodgers said she and one of her art dealer friends found an authentic pencil sketch by Frederic Remington, known for his artworks of the Old West.

Rodgers successfully placed a $900 bid for the purported Pollock - considered a pricey sum in 1969.

But when she went to authenticate the painting at the Parke Bernet Gallery in Manhattan, Rodgers said the head of the modern art department at the gallery told her an original "drip period" Pollock artwork could fetch between $125,000 to $165,000 at auction. She said the gallery executive asked her to make arrangements to take the painting to the Marlborough Gallery, also in Manhattan, to let Pollock's widow, Lee Krasner, see the painting.

Rodgers said she made arrangements to meet Krasner at the Marlborough Gallery, but Krasner never showed. Instead, Rodgers reluctantly agreed to leave the painting overnight.

Rodgers said when she returned to the gallery, she was questioned about how she obtained the painting by three people who claimed to be assistant district attorneys of the New York County District Attorney's office. They told her they were investigating an art forgery sting. Rodgers said she was told her painting would be confiscated as evidence and returned to her at the close of the case.

After several years of not hearing from members of the Marlborough Gallery or any investigators of an art forgery sting case, Rodgers said she began to lose faith of ever seeing her painting again.

But a chance encounter with a rookie reporter named George Giokas in 1974 reignited her hope of getting her painting back. Giokas, who worked for the Reporter Dispatch in White Plains, N.Y., at the time, told her he would help locate her painting.

Giokas said in a December phone interview with the Tribune that he called one of his sources at the New York County District Attorney's Office for help. He said after a few months, he received a call from his source to pick up Rodgers' painting from the Marlborough Gallery.

"She was flabbergasted when I told her," said Giokas of Rodgers' reaction. "She was screaming on the phone, 'You've got to be kidding.'"

During the time the painting was taken from her, Rodgers claims her painting was reviewed without her permission for the "Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works" as an "arbitrary design" (or general resemblance) in the Raisonne's false attributions section.

The Raisonne, later published in 1978, is a catalog of Pollock's works, and is considered by Pollock scholars to be the "bible" of Pollock research.

BLACKLISTED

Following the 1967 Jackson Pollock Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Krasner set out to put together the Raisonne of her late husband's work, said Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, Long Island. The Raisonne committee, according to an excerpt from Page 169 of the Pollock Raisonne, "at all times consisted of Lee Krasner Pollock; Donald McKinney, president of Marlborough Gallery in New York; and William S. Lieberman, curator of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art ." Its authors were art dealer Eugene Victor Thaw and art historian Francis Valentine O'Connor.

During the time period from which Rodgers' painting was seized in 1969 to the time when Giokas helped recover it in 1974, Pollock's estate again changed hands.

"In the early 1970s, Lee withdrew the estate from Marlborough, after which it was handled privately by Eugene Victor Thaw," Harrison explained.

Hanno D. Mott, attorney for the Marlborough Gallery, said in an e-mail to the Tribune dated May 27, that "the Gallery does not now nor has it ever represented the Pollock Estate." The Marlborough Gallery's Web site, however, is in direct contradiction to Mott's statement. It states that Marlborough has represented the estate of Pollock in its gallery history section. The Marlborough Gallery's involvement with Pollock's estate also is confirmed by Harrison.

Rodgers' painting, F/ll, in the 1978 Pollock Catalogue Raisonne is pictured on its side, with "neither signed nor dated," as the only comments listed.

After Rodgers saw her signed painting documented as a fake in the Pollock Raisonne, Rodgers said she reached out to the Raisonne's committee and authors to find out why they didn't think it was authentic.

"I tried to reach everyone involved with the production of the Raisonne. My calls were never returned," said Rodgers.

To this day, she said doesn't know the reason why the Raisonne's authors and committee deemed her painting a fake.

Francis Valentine O'Connor, co-author of the Pollock Raisonne, said in an e-mail to the Tribune dated May 22, "Fll was first reviewed by the committee that decided on the contents of the Pollock catalogue raisonne in the 1970s. These decisions were reviewed and confirmed by the Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board ca. 1994."

O'Connor did not respond to the Tribune's questions on how the committee acquired Rodgers' painting for review or if the committee at any time was in contact with Rodgers. O'Connor also did not respond to the Tribune's inquiries as to why he and his fellow committee members believed the painting known in the Raisonne as F/ll is not an authentic Pollock.

The Tribune's repeated requests to the Raisonne's co-author Eugene Victor Thaw for comment went unanswered, as were the Tribune's repeated requests to Kerrie Buitrago, executive vice president of the Pollock Foundation and Donald McKinney, the former president of the Marlborough Gallery in New York City.

Rodgers said no art gallery or auction house would agree to sell her painting once it was listed in the Pollock Raisonne as a fake.

"Without authentication, you cannot put a value on it," Rodgers explained.

In 1993, Rodgers unsuccessfully challenged members of the Pollock Raisonne committee, the Marlborough Gallery and the estate of Krasner, suing them on the grounds that their "blacklisting" of her painting in the Pollock Catalogue Raisonne willfully kept her from selling her painting on the open market. The case was rejected in a U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York on the grounds that the statute of limitations expired.

She says it's not just about the money. She says her motivation all these years is finding out the truth about her painting.

DECODING A MYSTERY

Harrison says it is highly unlikely a major Pollock work would be circulating undocumented.

"(Pollock) didn't work in obscurity. He showed (his paintings) and wanted to sell - it was his living," said Harrison , who has served as director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center - the site of Pollock and Krasner's former home and studio - since 1990.

Harrison said Pollock was not known to give away his major works. However, she said there are two documented instances in which Pollock did use them as payment.

"He valued his work highly," said Harrison, adding that in his 1951 will Pollock bequeathed everything to Krasner, his sole heir.

Many Pollock experts hold the Pollock Raisonne in high regard.

"The Catalogue Raisonne is the gold standard," said Pepe Karmel, associate professor and chairman of New York University's department of art history. "(The authors) spent more time and energy than anyone else has."

Karmel defines an arbitrary design - the term assigned to Rodgers' painting in the Raisonne - as a general resemblance of a Pollock, but not a serious attempt to imitate forms.

Karmel, who co-curated a Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998, would not comment on painting F/ll's attributes in the Pollock Raisonne. But he said there are a number of technical factors Pollock scholars use to determine if a Pollock work is authentic or not, including how the paint was laid down and what sequence the paint is in.

Pollock scholars, however, have been known to have conflicting opinions over possible Pollock works.

According to The New York Times, Thaw was challenged in the early 1990s by art critic Clement Greenberg over Norman Wasserman's assertion that he owns a Pollock.

Wasserman is a Brooklyn man who believed the painting he purchased for less than $100 at a Manhattan frame shop in 1954 was an authentic Pollock.

Wasserman's painting was rejected by the Pollock Raisonne committee and listed in the Raisonne as an arbitrary design.

In 1992, Thaw told The New York Times "the Wasserman painting misses by a mile ... there's no energy to it, no life to it."

Greenberg, on the other hand, told The New York Times, Wasserman's painting "struck me as being Pollock's mind andhand."

TURNING TO FORENSICS

Rodgers says she turned to forensic experts for their objectivity.

"You can't fool with forensics," Rodgers said. "Forensics is not an opinion; it's fact. It's the only fair way a painting can be judged."

To date, the forensic studies that Rodgers said she has spent thousands of dollars on have been inconclusive in tying a direct link of her painting to Pollock.

In late 1999, Rodgers retained Paul Barabe, a senior research microscopist at the internationally renowned McCrone Associates, a Westmont, Ill., based lab that specializes in the microanalysis of art objects and historical and archaeological artifacts.

Barabe said microscopy, which is the use of a microscope to identify and characterize small particles in paintings, is used in both the conservation community as well as for examining paintings in the marketplace. Barabe said Rodgers' painting was examined in person in December 1999 by a New York painting conservator who extracted paint samples by needle. According to the McCrone report, the samples provided "are consistent with a date of creation in the mid-twentieth century" and that "the painting could not have been made before 1943 and was probably not made after the mid-1970s, although all of the materials seen in this work are still available today."

The McCrone report also found " the pigments in this work are consistent with other works attributed to Jackson Pollock that we have studied in our laboratory."

In a separate McCrone study of her painting in January 2005, Barabe said an analysis based on a high-quality image of her painting's signature, found that the signature was "most likely made with a blue fiber tip pen" and "there were no signs of alteration of the region." Barabe added the analysis is not 100 percent conclusive in that the findings were based on a photograph of the signature.

If Rodgers' painting was in fact signed by pen, that deepens its mystery.

When asked about the materials used in Pollock's signatures, Harrison said "I'm not aware of Pollock having signed his oil or enamel paintings in any medium other than paint."

Last year, Rodgers turned to Peter Paul Biro, a specialist in forensic studies in art, based in Montreal, for further analysis of her painting. Rodgers heard about his forensic research on a painting owned by Teri Horton, who believes a painting she bought for $5 at a California thrift store in the late 1980s is an authentic Pollock.

Biro, who is known for his art restoration work, first made a name for himself in forensic art studies some 20 years ago when he matched a fingerprint on a purported J.M.W. Turner painting to a fingerprint on an authentic Turner artwork.

Through forensic analysis, Biro said he found a fingerprint on Horton's painting that matches a Pollock print on a Pollock paint can. Biro said the fingerprint on Horton's painting is "highly probable that it is Pollock's." Biro said he has numerous fingerprints and paint samples on file that come from objects preserved in Pollock's studio and from cataloged, undisputed Pollock paintings.

Biro said in Rodgers' case, he did not find any fingerprints or human hair samples from Pollock and is relying on pigment analysis.

The pigments in Rodgers' painting, he concluded, "were used during Pollock's dates and are not substances made after he died."

While that finding may look promising, Pollock experts such as Karmel say the paints Pollock used were common and widely used by many artists.

The next step, Biro said, is analyzing whether the pigments in Rodgers' painting match any of the samples Biro obtained from Pollock's studio and works.

While Rodgers awaits Biro's final analysis, she says she tries not to dwell on the outcome or the millions the painting, which is in storage in New York, could be worth if it is proven to be an authentic Pollock. What she wants most of all, she says, is closure.

"It's frustrating to have to wait, but I truly believe it (the painting) is a Jackson Pollock. It will be vindicated."

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