Fuse Flash: New York Times Breaks Long Silence on Matter Controversies

The New York Times broke nearly eight months of silence in its Nov. 29 issue to report on a symposium, “Are They Pollocks? What Science Tells Us About the Matter Paintings,” presented the previous night under the sponsorship of the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).

Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock doing his thing

The short (less than 700 words) Times art section piece by reporter Randy Kennedy included a brief digest of the event and some of the related controversies over a group of small, abstract paintings attributed by some to Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.

Kennedy’s article was the first significant reporting the Times had done on the long-running controversy since early last April, although both Kennedy and the
Times had given the international authentication controversy extensive coverage over the previous two years. The rare public clash of art historians and scientists over whether the works were by Pollock or by other unknown persons has attracted extensive media attention around the world.

The IFAR event had been much anticipated by those still following the Matter controversies because it featured James Martin of Orion Research in Williamstown, MA. Martin is the author of a mysterious “third scientific report,” completed more than a year ago for filmmaker Alex Matter, who discovered the paintings in 2002. Unlike other studies of the Matter paintings conducted by Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Martin’s findings had not been publicly released, although some details were included the MFA report.

“Although Mr. Martin, who is based in Williamstown, Mass., completed the analysis last fall,” Kennedy wrote in the Nov. 29 article, “he has said he did not release it earlier because Mr. Matter’s lawyer told him he would face a lawsuit if he did so. It is unclear why he chose to go public now.

“Mr. Matter’s lawyer, Jeremy Epstein, has denied threatening Mr. Martin, but he has said that he did tell Mr. Martin he was not authorized to release the report because Mr. Matter, who has sold some of the paintings, did not feel it was complete.”

The IFAR meeting appears to have been a bit of an anticlimax, however. According to Kennedy’s summary, there seemed to be little, if any, new information presented in Martin’s speech.

Martin’s findings were previously summarized in the catalogue of the exhibition Pollock Matters, at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, which publicly displayed the controversial works for the first time. All three scientific studies found materials, in about three quarters of the studied paintings, that are widely believed not to have been available during Pollock’s lifetime. Other details of Martin’s study have been discussed in media reports.

Kennedy made no mention of remarks made by the other speakers at the IFAR event, which was to include Richard Newman, primary author of the MFA report, and New York University art historian Pepe Karmel, recognized as a leading Pollock authority, nor did he say whether there was any discussion or debate among the symposium participants.

Several observers of the Pollock Matter controversies have remarked on recent absence of coverage by the Times on the affair and on the Boston College exhibition, which opened last September. The exhibition opening and later developments in the Pollock Matter story were given extensive coverage by the Boston media, including the Times-owned Boston Globe, and also in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in Newsweek magazine, and in the International Herald Tribune, the distinguished English-language daily, distributed around the world, which is also owned by the New York Times.

The long Times hiatus began with another Kennedy article on the controversy, published early last April.

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