- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

PORTLAND, Ore. — After more than a year of research, Jackson Pollock expert Ellen Landau is convinced that 32 works found by the son of a Pollock friend were created by the artist, despite debate about their origin.

The authenticity of the Pollock works, which include 25 completed compositions, has been debated since their discovery was made public last year by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and Alex Matter, son of photographer Herbert Matter, the artist’s good friend.

The debate — with millions of dollars at stake — was further enflamed earlier this month when the scientific journal Nature published a story about an Oregon scientist who examined six of the paintings and could not find the pattern of “fractals” he had found earlier in known works by Mr. Pollock.

Fractal geometry — finding patterns in chaos — was first applied to Mr. Pollock’s paintings in the late 1990s by Richard Taylor, a University of Oregon physicist with an art degree and a longtime interest in abstract art.

Mr. Taylor used the mathematics of fractal analysis to show that Mr. Pollock had an intuitive grasp of the complex patterns of nature when he created art that some critics dismissed as mere splashes of paint. He concluded that Mr. Pollock’s style in his known works was impossible to duplicate.

However, the same analysis of the sample of the works found by Alex Matter in 2002 in a storage unit belonging to his late father led Mr. Taylor to the opposite conclusion — that they “may have been painted by different hands.”

Ms. Landau, a professor of art history at Cleveland Museum of Art/Case Western Reserve University, responds that there may be a very good reason Mr. Taylor could not find the familiar fractal patterns in the disputed paintings: Mr. Pollock was experimenting with different styles influenced by Herbert Matter’s photographic work.

Ms. Landau, author of books on Mr. Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, says she can show that “Pollock was looking at Herbert’s work, and he was thinking about Herbert’s work, and obviously the two of them were exchanging information back and forth about their experimental attitude.”

She says her research at the Matter archive at Stanford University uncovered “amazing photographs” that led her to material that shows strategies Mr. Pollock had involving the works of Herbert Matter.

Still, Ms. Landau acknowledges, “The only people who really know anything about these paintings are Mr. Pollock and Herbert Matter.”

Nicknamed “Jack the Dripper” by Time magazine in 1956, the year he died in a car crash, Mr. Pollock poured and dripped paint over huge canvases to create swirling, intricate layers of color and seemingly random designs he insisted were the result of deliberate technique.

It was not until 1999 that computer analysis by Mr. Taylor confirmed that Mr. Pollock had methodically created patterns with a mathematical resemblance to complex natural phenomena — such as snowflakes or a thick forest viewed from above.

Now Mr. Taylor is at the middle of the dispute over whether the 32 works found by Alex Matter were done by Mr. Pollock.

Mr. Taylor has tried to avoid the controversy generated by his confidential report, commissioned by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in hopes of settling the dispute. He also has said his analysis should not be the sole factor in deciding authenticity. However, Mr. Taylor said in an e-mail to Associated Press that fractal analysis has proved effective at spotting imitators, including students who tried to duplicate Mr. Pollock’s style.

“What we know so far is that none of the 37 students we asked to pour paint managed to match Pollock’s style,” he said.

Andrcej Herczynski, a Boston College physicist who works with art historians, says the foundation has not yet released technical details about Mr. Taylor’s methods — questions that other scientists would like to ask.

However, Mr. Taylor’s findings have been endorsed by Francis O’Connor, co-author of “Raisonne,” considered the definitive Pollock catalog, and a former member of the board that determined the authenticity of Mr. Pollock paintings.

Mr. O’Connor says Mr. Taylor’s fractal test results reinforced his skepticism about the paintings. “The paintings did not look like Pollocks,” he says without providing any details.

The works found by Alex Matter could have been created by someone else, including his mother, Mercedes, as experiments to imitate Mr. Pollock’s style, skeptics suggest. They say the paintings were done on the type of smaller boards that Herbert Matter typically used in photographic work rather than the large canvases favored by Mr. Pollock for his paintings.

Ms. Landau dismisses that as mere coincidence, noting the close friendship between Mr. Pollock and Herbert Matter during the late 1940s and how Herbert Matter wrote a wrapper label on the artwork found in 2002 that called them “Pollock experimentals.”


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