Red, Black & Silver, attributed to Jackson Pollock
A while ago I read an article in Vanity Fair on some particularly intriguing art drama surrounding Jackson Pollock, his estranged wife, Lee Krasner, and his mistress, Ruth Kligman (all of whom are dead now) and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The article revolved around an unauthenticated piece Kligman claims is the last painting Pollock ever made, a piece she claimed he made for her, just a few weeks before his death in a car crash in 1956. The struggle to authenticate it and add it to the catalogue raisonné of all Pollock’s works was a staggering battle, given that the board was established by Pollock’s wife, (who obviously had some ill-will towards the woman who spent the last year of Jackson’s life living in their house, carrying on an open affair while Lee was in Europe, protesting the whole situation), and that Kligman failed to mention the painting even existed until 20 years after his death (including publishing a book tackily called “Love Affair” in which she documented their, well, affair, but not mentioning the painting once).
Kligman was (and this is the politest way I can say it) an Art Groupie. A year after Pollock’s death, she began an affair with Willem de Kooning, his biggest rival, who was even reported to have said of Pollock’s death, “It’s over. I’m number one.” Still, no mention of Red, Black & Silver until the 1980s. By that point, the Pollock-Krasner foundation had been established to authenticate all known Pollock paintings. Kligman, who by the late 80s/early 90s was totally broke, wanted to sell the painting at auction at Christie’s, but without proper authentication, the painting wouldn’t be worth much. Her quest to have it authenticated by the Pollock-Krasner board began.
Despite testimony and evidence Ruth’s team of lawyers amassed from a plethora of experts, the painting was rejected. Not once, but twice. The first time the painting was submitted for inclusion, the board agreed to include the painting in a supplement to the catalogue under “Unresolved Attributions,” with the note: “Questions remain … concerning the precise history and actual facture of this painting which prevent the Board from resolving whether, and to what extent, this painting can be attributed to Pollock. The work is stylistically and technically atypical. There is also no compelling independent evidence to corroborate the owner’s otherwise plausible account of its creation. The Board nevertheless acknowledges the possibility that this work may well be authentic, which has led to the decision [to present] it as a problem for further scholarly investigation.”
The second submission, in 1996, included “a report from a handwriting expert, and a gestural analysis of Red, Black & Silver based on the hand and wrist motions documented in…films of Pollock at work…[and] the results of a polygraph test taken by Kligman, in which she was asked whether she had witnessed Pollock paint Red, Black & Silver and other related questions. She passed.” Frustratingly, and despite a mountain of convincing evidence, Kligman’s request to have the painting authenticated was denied again. This time, because the board of authentication had disbanded.
Red, Black & Silver was set to go up for auction in September of this year at Phillips de Pury in London, but was pushed back until early 2013. I’m fascinated to see how much the piece, which, having exhausted all possible avenues of authentication, is just attributed to Jackson Pollock, will fetch at auction. There is speculation that the drama and story surrounding it is half its value. Personally, (and again, this is the politest way I can say it) I don’t understand the appeal of Pollock’s work, but that’s a conversation for another day. I don’t know enough about it to form an opinion on whether or not this is an authentic piece, but the whole thing is kind of heartbreaking, isn’t it?
I love art drama.