Red, Black & Silver

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?

love art drama.

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December 12, 2012 / art / photo / LEAVE A COMMENT / 34

34 comments

  • I had a great English teacher my sophmore year in high school who would refer to “not having her antenna tuned into” particular writers (she was speaking specifically of T.S. Eliot), and that’s what I might say about you and Pollock. Maybe? It was such a relief to hear, you know? That you could love literature and not love every writer? Growing up with an abstract artist and sculptor, perhaps I have more of an appreciation of Pollack than you. I hadn’t heard this story (Must subscribe to Vanity Fair), and when I read your post, I thought THAT’S a Pollack? REALLY? So, interesting. Passing this along to my dad. He’ll enjoy it.

    • I love that! Yes, I’d say I’m just not tuned into his station. Where you grew up with an abstract artist, I grew up with a strict Impressionist artist and sculptor, so I think my knowledge/appreciation of art stops at like, 1920, haha. It’s not that I don’t value Pollock’s work, I totally see the appeal in a general sense, just not an individual sense for me personally. But I am impolite when it comes to the likes of Warhol, ahem. ;)
      You’re right, though, that was such a relief to hear. The pressure is totally off. xoxo

  • Oh this is akin to your fascination with art heists isn’t it?
    what a fascinating story. So annoying for her if it’s true. Rmeinds me of the woman who claims to be Anastasia (from the Russian Royal Family, not the ‘I’m outta love’ chick)

    • Totally in the same vein as my fascination with art heists, yes. What can I say, art is far more interesting to me than say, sports. It’s a similar situation with that Anastasia-claimer! We’ll never know, will we? It’s a shame if it’s true, but it’s cruel if it’s not, you know? xo

  • oh i do love a bit of scandal… hadn’t heard of this one, but then i’m no real art afficionado (i just love what i love) so no surprises there!

    • Oh, I’m hardly an aficionado! Just an art-nerd ;) But yes, who doesn’t love a bit of scandal?? xo

  • I actually do like Jackson Pollocks work. Well, some of it I should say, some of it does not appeal to me at all. I just don’t understand why one mans splatters is genius and another’s is not. If I ever travel back in time I tell ya. . .

    I have to say if I was Lee I would have done the same, I would have never allowed that woman to make a dime on that painting. I wouldn’t necessarily do that just because they had an affair but I mean she wrote a book about it?! She just seems like the worst kind of person your husband could have an affair with, so heck ya, i’d stone wall her at the gates of the pollock-krasner estate. But this story definitely give the painting more value now too. But who will get the money? Who does the painting belong to now?

    • I think that’s my problem, and it stems from the fact that I simply haven’t spent enough time studying this genre of art enough to really distinguish between Pollock-worthy paint splatters and regular paint splatters, haha. I’m not saying I hate him with a passion, far from it, but I wouldn’t collect it or hang it on my wal or anything. Team Monet, haha.

      But yes, I can’t blame Lee one little bit. Technically, and it’s all explained in the article, she didn’t have direct involvement in the authenticating, but the trustees appointed to it were alleged (by Ruth) to be in her pocket, so who knows. I mean, the shock of losing your husband first to a mistress and then to a car accident have to be painful enough with the woman parading some painting around claiming he made it for HER before he died. Just terrible all around. xo

  • I would just like to state for the record that I am NOT, nor was I ever, an Art Groupie!

    • Thou dost protest too much. ;) xo

      • Ok, so I have to admit that when I introduced your father to the personal assistant of Henry P. McIlhenny, in Rittenhouse Square, she not only recognized your father’s name, but also described the painting he had at a major gallery(Butcher Moore) in town!

        • Okay, so see? SHE was an Art Groupie!

  • So fascinating, I will be curious to find out what will it fetch at the auction. But I am not a Pollock fan I must say, or de Kooning for that matter.

    • I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I couldn’t identify a de Kooning from a line-up, even with a gun to my head. I don’t have some enormous aversion to it, I just haven’t ever spent any time with it to really appreciate it, you know? xo

  • Fascinating post Erin. As a fan of Pollock I think it looks like a painting done by someone who says, “Anybody can paint like Jackson Pollock.” I think Ruth did it.

    • Interesting! Gosh, we’ll never know, will we? All the key players are long deceased. But I’m with you, my gut doesn’t tell me it’s legitimate.

      PS. I love your daughter :)

  • I am quite fascinated by Jackson Pollock’s work. And the whole love triangle thing is fascinating, I do love a scandal! And yes, this piece is kind of tragic. I really like it! Will be looking out for it at auction to see what it fetches….my Mum is in the artwork, I’ll have to chat to her about it to get the low down… :)

    • Ooh, get as much as insider info as you can! I’m so curious to see what happens when it goes to auction. I wish I could be there! I bet there are a ton of whispers and murmurs when it’s unveiled!

  • I meant ‘art world’ hahaha! Now everyone might thing my mum has something to do with this scandal te he he!

    • Haha, my brain totally read it as “art world” the first time, so good catch! All this painting needs is another layer of intrigue! ;)

  • Wow, that’s definitely a story with some drama behind it. And I’m sure in 200 years, someone will come along and make a movie about it (you should get a head start on that screen play)

    • Whoa, 200 years from now! I hope a lot sooner. That’s crazy to think about. All the artwork I know and love will be so much more ancient history by then. Well, my mind is sufficiently blow and it’s barely even noon! xo

  • The whole story is fascinating, but I absolutely love how you ended this simply with “I love art drama.” I’m not too much into Pollock either, but oddly enough, when I was younger my dad made a huge frame of 2x4s and stretched a canvas over it, just so that the two of us could paint Pollock-style together. When I lived at home it was on my bedroom wall, and now that I live on my own it’s been hanging up in my living room. I don’t particularly love it because it resembles Pollock’s style, more so I love it because my dad wanted to make something with me and art is something we bond over. So for that reason alone, I like Pollock. Why other people like Pollock? I don’t get it either.

    • Yelle, that story was so incredibly touching. I’d love to see that piece you guys made together at some point. The love and story behind it is worth its weight in gold. Those are the kind of memories I have with my dad, too. I might have an affinity for Pollock-style work if I’d been exposed to it enough in a meaningful way, you know?

      And yeah, I do love art drama :) xo

  • I missed this piece in Vanity Fair. Thanks for covering it as I do find it fascinating. I’m indifferent to Pollack’s work only because I haven’t spent any proper time with it. I have to say that when I first saw Red, Black & Silver above (in this post), I didn’t immediately recognize it as Pollack, not that I’m any expert. It’s reassuring to know that Lauren’s Dad and others felt the same way. Oh, this story is a proper scandal, indeed!

    • You put into words exactly what I was trying to say. “I’m indifferent to Pollack’s work only because I haven’t spent any proper time with it.” All of my formative years were spent with Monet and Turner and Renoir, there wasn’t really a lot of spare time for anything “current.” But now I’m sufficiently intrigued thanks to this story! It was in the September Style issue that I (shamefully) read a few months late, haha. I don’t know if I believe Ruth’s story, either. There are so many factors to consider! xoxo

  • I feel like this is a classic case of karma as far as Ruth Kligman is concerned: that’s what you get! Still, I bet it’ll sell for a pretty penny. I mean, just the controversy surrounding the piece will probably drive the price up.

    • Hahah seriously. You have to figure at some point she realized how far-fetched her claim would sound given her history, right? It’s a sad scandal all around. The auction house is estimating anywhere between $500k and $1.2mil!

  • I rather like Pollack work since my trip to the Guggenheim this year.

    Fascinating stuff Erin, roll on 2013 to find out what happens next x

    • I need to be exposed to his work more, that was definitely my own fault for not having more exposure to him. I don’t know, I get comfortable in my little Impressionist bubble :)

      The auction house is in London, so if you hear anything before we do you have to report back!! xo

  • I have to say I like some of his work, like Sam it happened after a visit to the Guggenheim. And I am with Christine on the whole things about paint splatters. Will you keep tabs on the auction? I am definitely curious how much the painting will fetch. Wasn’t there a woman once who claimed she found a Pollock painting at a yard sale or something? I can’t remember what happened to that painting.

    • I’m sure I could come to appreciate and understand it far better if I go to an exhibit properly. I just don’t think I get it now. I remember that story about the woman finding a Pollock at a Goodwill or something! I just did a google search and found this documentary, which looks fascinating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_the_*$%26%25_Is_Jackson_Pollock%3F

  • Beautiful and very interesting story! I’m also very intrigued by it, and I’m curious how much the painting will be worth. But we’ll probably never know whether or not Pollock painted this piece, since he died such a long time ago…

    xoxo, Femke
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    • That’s part of what’s so sad about it, Ruth claimed it was made right before he died. She was either being honest or opportunistic, but we’ll never know for sure! I just think it’s fascinating that 60 years after his death there is still so much attention being paid to this one piece.