Anonymous Sources: Just Call Us Old Fashioned

A hard-surfing reader called our attention recently to a piece in the on-line journal, The Hub Review. The piece, “Why all the love for the ‘Matter Pollocks’?” reports on the on-going controversy covered in some previous “Anonymous Sources” posts on The Arts Fuse.

Anonymous Sources

The article is by-lined Thomas Garvey, a recent commentator here. It includes this commanding statement: “It took one glance for me to decide the ‘Matter Pollocks’ were junk – either outright fakes or so bad that Pollock hid them out of embarrassment.”

Oh really? Our eagle-eyed reader points out that the article is dated August 28, four days before the McMullen Museum exhibition opened to the public. That means that Mr. Garvey passed judgment on the “Matter Pollocks” before he visited the McMullen exhibition, read any of its lengthy, scholarly catalogue, or actually saw any of the Matter works in person.

The time may well come when exhibitions are judged, lightning quick, on the basis of patchy news reports and murky internet images. But— call us old fashioned if you must— we feel it is still a good idea to actually see an exhibition before you review it, and especially before accusing its organizers of perpetuating a fraud.

Untitled No. 8

Now Mr. Garvey wants to remind that “the work of ‘conservator’ Franco Lisi [sic: the gentleman in question spells his name ‘Lissi’] looks quite a bit like the ‘Pollocks’ he supposedly restored . . . hmmmm . . .”

Do tell! We urge our readers to compare for themselves. We find his representational works owe more to turn of the twentieth-century symbolists like Gustav Klimt (also fond of dots), James Ensor, and Edvard Munch than to Pollock. Their garish colors are particularly unlike any previously known Pollock or Pollock forgery we’ve ever heard of. It seems pretty unfair to accuse Lisi of being capable of forging the master’s work well enough to fool the real experts.

Meanwhile, we’ve also caught this response to the original article by Greg Cook that broke the Lissi story:

Mark Borghi of Mark Borghi Fine Art, which has represented the estate of Mercedes Matter and been involved with the Alex Matter “Pollocks,” responded Sunday night:

I would like to fill you in on the “chain of custody”. The first person to see the works from Alex was William O’Reilly who told Alex to show them to Joan Wasburn, who is the representative of the Jackson Pollock estate. In fact Joan had 3 of the works for at least 7 months. A call to her gallery can confirm this. This is long before myself or Franco ever laid eyes on any of the paintings. I collected the works from Joan in their original state prior to any conservation. It was only at this point that I became involved. It was I who introduced Alex to Franco in the spring of 2003…

So call us old fashioned if you must, but we think critics should still think twice before publishing potentially libelous accusations. Getting their eyes checked once in awhile might be another good idea.


  1. Thomas Garvey on September 10, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Quite right – there are earlier posts on my blog where I state this openly; it’s no surprise to my regular readers. I looked at several images on the web (some high-resolution, some not!) months ago and knew right away, as I said, that the Matter paintings were junk. And they ARE junk – with a “provenance” that has by now gone beyond convoluted into outright funny (as has your defense of them, particularly under the cloak of anonymity!). Sure, I’m confident in my judgments – but call me on that when I’m wrong, sister, and not before. As for your statements about Lisi (and it’s spelled “Lisi” on his website) – true, his representational works look (a little bit) like Ensor or Munch, but his “abstract” pieces (the guy is clearly a hack) look a lot like the “Matter Pollocks.” A lot. So I’d say you’re getting as sloppy with the truth as Matter is.

  2. ArtsFuse on September 10, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    We are in awe of Mr. Garvey’s calm determination to stick to his guns. We don’t pretend to anything like his clairvoyant aesthetic perceptions and are quite content to let the chips fall where they may in the Pollock Matter. If he turns out to be right in any of this, we will be happy to say so here. But we anticipate a lengthy wait.

  3. Thomas Garvey on September 11, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Awww, thanks, Awestruck (can I call you that now, instead of “Anonymous”?), but really, I’m just very perceptive, not actually clairvoyant. Admittedly, my skills seem almost superhuman these days, when so many people have shown so little discernment when it comes to the Matter paintings, which completely lack Pollock’s essential signature – that muscular sense of energy shooting through, or exploding out of, pictorial space. In contrast, the Matter paintings are dense, even impacted, and have little sense of depth; their recursive scribbles feel obsessive, not spontaneous; their color palette doesn’t feel particularly like Pollock; and of course their size is all wrong. In short, they do not look like Pollocks at first glance (even on the web) – at least not to any sophisticated eye.

    In order to sustain the idea that these might be Pollocks anyway, the McMullen curators perforce must conjure a scenario to counter these discrepancies. Their answer is that the Matter paintings might be experiments (after all, the paper they were supposedly found in was labeled “Pollock experimentals” by Herbert Matter). This is a pretty creative curatorial position (“these don’t look like Pollocks, but they still might be”), in that it depends completely on Alex Matter’s trustworthiness – not to mention that even if the thesis were true, it seems probable that said experiments were rejected (and for good reason – they paintings just don’t convey what Pollock was interested in).

    But at any rate, empirical analysis has indicated that the thesis is not true. Studies have shown that pigment in most of the paintings was unavailable during Pollock’s lifetime. It seems that the paintings’ owner, Alex Matter, even attempted to suppress some of these findings (some of which have still not fully seen the light of day). The plot has recently gotten even thicker: questions have been raised about the works’ restorer, whose own art bears a striking resemblance to the Matter paintings, and who apparently painted over at least some of them, and scratched off a patch of another (Alex Matter’s initial story was that his cat had done this!).

    You anticipate “a lengthy wait” in the determination of whether or not the Matter paintings are Pollocks, but I’d say the wait is over. Too many questions have risen about the paintings, and too few straightforward answers. The McMullen show has only muddied the waters, not cleared them – perhaps because clearing them is impossible. Matter will no doubt find a collector foolish enough to risk purchasing some of the pictures, at a discount, but it seems impossible that they will be accepted into the Pollock canon by the community at large, given all the negative publicity. I admit it feels good having my intuition backed up by investigation – but if the chips had indeed fallen the other way, I think I would have admitted I was mistaken (unlike some people.

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