Drip, Drip, Drip.
May 16, 2005 7:22 AM   Subscribe

32 Jackson Pollock drip paintings discovered. (3 images - click on "Jackson Pollock") Alex Matter's parents, the photographer Herbert Matter, and the painter Mercedes Matter, were friends with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Alex apparently discovered the small paintings while sorting through his father's archives. Believed to be studies for the large drip paintings, they have been estimated to be worth upwards of 40 million dollars, if real. The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, however, is "reserving judgement" on the authenticity of the paintings.
posted by R. Mutt (17 comments total)
Just curious, but, how the hell would you authenticate a Pollock drip painting? There's film of him working, and it's not like the technique would be hard to copy.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2005

Yeah, that's the trouble with valuing art that any child could replicate @ $40 Million.
posted by jonson at 7:35 AM on May 16, 2005

It's easy to look at art and say, "Well, I could do that!"

But the fact of the matter is... you didn't.
posted by trey at 7:49 AM on May 16, 2005

Not true, I created 32 paintings recently that are estimated to be worth upwards of 40 million dollars.
posted by Stan Chin at 7:51 AM on May 16, 2005

I've always wanted to have the money to buy an original Pollock.
I want to buy one, cut it into 1" squares, and sell them for $3000/piece. I should just about break even.
I could probably film the whole thing, and market the whole project as performance art. Maybe even sell videos - limited edition, of course.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:15 AM on May 16, 2005

bashos_frog: I'm not quite sure that the final peices would be worth that much.

My sister is going to Parson's for fasion design right now, hoping to be a famous designer. Is the artwork of famous fasion designers worth anything? I definetly try to keep anything she gives me well-preserved in hopes it might be worth millions some day :P


The best explanation I've heard for the price of artwork is that collecting art is almost like collecting baseball cards. It's not that the cards themselves have any intrinsic value, it's just that it's a memento. Sure, a Pollock origional might spruce up your livingroom, but not $40 million dollars worth. It has more to do with the name then the asthetic value of the work itself.
posted by delmoi at 8:38 AM on May 16, 2005

Of course the PKF is reserving judgement. This sort of discovery takes awhile to authenticate, so they're not going to do something as foolish as to endorse the works before that process is over. And they can't not comment, hence the vague statement.

delmoi, it really depends with fashion. Some designers fetch quite a bit, although generally not as much as an artist of equivalent stature.
posted by me3dia at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2005

Well, if his wife, Lee Krasner (a better painter in my opinion) was still alive, she could authenticate the paintings. Since she isn't with us anymore, they'll have to rely on other records.

Nowadays, many artists, myself included, take photos or slides of nearly everything they make both as a record and for reference.

If you're lucky enough to become famous before you die, there would be dealers, collectors, museums, and galleries with a serious and invested interest in your work. Even if the artist wasn't meticulous about recording their portfolio, the art world and it's resources would likely pick up the slack.

Also, after a famous artist's death, museums are likely to have touring shows of the late artist's work. In organizing such a show, the museum puts out a call to draw collectors out of the woodwork, asking them to lend their paintings to the museum for the exhibitions. This process is helpful in cataloging or taking a census of the body of work.

But many small studies and early works tend to slip past records. However, most 20th century artists worth forging have estates, trusts, or foundations that have an interest in preserving and authenticating the work of the artist.
While it's relatively easy to make a painting that looks like a Rothko, Motherwell, Warhol, or Pollock, to correctly forge it, you'd have to find the 60 year old paints that they used, the 60 year old paper or canvas, and the 60 year old supplies they used to make the work. There are also innumerable clues that a trained expert can look for based merely on surface appearance. If you look at enough Pollocks for a long enough time, you'll be able to see his particular hand and you'll know the vocabulary of marks that's consistent through all of them.

Jonson: Be careful. Saying "a child could make that" immediately betrays the fact that you know nothing about art making or art history. I'll admit that I'm definitely not a big fan of Pollock but I am a fan of many other artists about whom you could say "my kid could paint that." As simple and scribbly as they can look, all of the paintings by that generation of artists have a consideration, sensitivity, and decades of working and thinking that deny their childishness. It's really hard to make scribbles look that good or be that interesting. Try to make a big scribbly painting. Unless you really know what you're doing, it's going to look like mud.

delmoi: You should keep your sisters work. Besides the fact that she might need/want it someday, fashion designers do get rich and famous. A little over a year ago, the Philadelphia Museum had a HUGE blockbuster show about Elsa Schiaparelli, some big deal designer.
Also, in regards to collecting, not only do the artworks have the namebrand/memento value, the collector might also have the rights to the painting. If you happen to have a large collection of a big-deal artist, you might get paid when someone photographs the works for posters, textbooks, and coffee-table books. It's also not merely a "name over aesthetic value" equation. It has quite a bit to do with the significance of the work.
posted by Jon-o at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2005

how the hell would you authenticate a Pollock drip painting?

I have heard that in the case of Andy Warhol, (another artist that would be subject to copying) there is a committee that meets periodically to inspect questionable or unrecorded work. I don't know if there exists such a committee for Pollock's work. But since he died so long ago, I doubt it.

People on this kind of committee would usually have some specific, or personal, or technical knowledge of the artist and his/her work. For example, an art conservator who has worked on known pieces would test the type and age of paint and other materials used. A former studio assistant (usually artists themselves) would know where and when the artist bought his materials, and how the works were made. Also considered would be the source of the work, and documentation of the work in question.

In Pollock's case, one would assume that many of the people with personal, direct knowledge of the artist and his work process are no longer alive. However, it seems that the longstanding friendship between Matter's parents and Pollock/Krasner is well known and documented in letters, cards, and photos. Apparently, Matter's father periodically let Pollock use his studio.

On a materials and technical level, since so many of Pollock's paintings are in museums, there would a great deal of technical information on record. Places like the Museum of Modern Art in NY have incredible archives, resources, researchers, and documentation that could be used to help evaluate the work's authenticity.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2005

I actually love Pollock, which is weird since I really can't stand almost any other abstract art.

One of the irritating things about the "anyone can do that" argument about Pollock is that it ignores the fact that the art is not just randomly splashing paint, there is a very specific pattern within it. An article in Scientific American (here's the short version) a few years back pointed out that image analysis programs will look at a Pollack painting and think its a fractal, and you can in fact ballpark the age of a painting by assigning a value to the level of replication.

Also, of the three images in the second link, I'd definitely go with number 2.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2005

Even Rembrandt's work is still being authenticated.
posted by beagle at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2005

I've always wanted to have the money to buy an original Pollock.

My mother lived in Chicago in the late 40's and she had a roommate who had known Pollock when he worked at the WPA. She (the roommate) had several sketches and early non-drip paintings by him. She had kept them, but really more as a memento of their friendship than as art that she believed had any value. You can imagine her surprise when he turned up in Life magazine in 1949. I believe she ended up having to sell the paintings sometime in the 1970's, as she could no longer afford to insure them.
posted by anastasiav at 11:43 AM on May 16, 2005

Pollock is one of those painters that it's very difficult to "get" unless you see one of his paintings live, on the wall of a gallery. In fact it's easy to argue that no painting survives the transfer to a plate or the net very well - I would agree with anyone making that point - but Pollock in particular (and many of his generation) just doesn't make the jump at all well.

A Pollock work in person, though, is something else. Awesome, in the true sense of the word.
posted by mikel at 12:08 PM on May 16, 2005

Iron chef, here's another link about Pollock and fractals:
Fractal Expressionism
Here's an image from that article - one of these is by Pollock, the other two are made by pendulum.

posted by bashos_frog at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Even Rembrandt's work is still being authenticated.

I don't think there is a pendulum in existence that could create a reasonable facsimile of a Rembrandt.

With the Dutch masters, you can examine technique, materials, subject matter, models, lighting, etc. With Pollock, you have technique and materials, and I don't think he made his own paints, so there is only so far you could go with examining the materials.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:28 PM on May 16, 2005

With Pollock, you have technique and materials, and I don't think he made his own paints, so there is only so far you could go with examining the materials.

You can examine them pretty far, I think. You can date the paint, you can find out what brand it was. Some of it is non "fine art" paint and the company that made is likely out of business or they have since discontinued that kind of paint.
They've had trouble with Rothko's paintings disintegrating because he bought cans of cheap paint from the hardware store down the street from his studio. They're hard to restore because they can't find anything being made now that's compatible with it.

Also, the formulas for making paints amount, essentially, to brands. Just because someone makes their own paints doesn't mean that it's 100% unique. An apprentice or student likely made them and passed that mixture down to their students later.

And, to be honest, it's just as hard to copy a Pollock as it is to copy a Rembrandt. Just because Rembrandts paintings look more technically challenging and exacting, everyone who goes to school for painting learns how to do it (especially at more conservative academies). There are thousands upon thousands of people who can, if they felt like it, paint like a Dutch master. Off the top of my head, I can think of about a half dozen undergraduate painters that I know who can replicate that style. It's just a matter of having the time and the patience.
posted by Jon-o at 1:54 PM on May 16, 2005

Not to put down the Dutch masters, by any means. Or, for that matter, to compare Pollock to Rembrandt (apples and oranges). I just mean to point out that anything is forgeable with time and the right resources. It just so happens that students learn the technique for forging (to put it strongly) certain styles...
posted by Jon-o at 1:59 PM on May 16, 2005

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