PIERRE LAGRANGE WANTS TO KNOW
Pierre Lagrange is upset and no one can blame him. Untitled 1950, a painting ostensibly created by Jackson Pollock is proving impossible to sell, much less return or authenticate. It would help if Knoedler & Co. Gallery, where he bought the work in 2007 for $17 million, were still open (it closed the day after he sent notice that the painting contains pigments unavailable until years after Pollock’s death).
It would help if Lagrange’s lawyers could locate owner Michael Hammer and subpoena him into providing documents and testimony in a lawsuit that has captivated the art world over the past months (he has ducked 11 attempts to serve him, at the same time maintaining that the gallery’s closing was unconnected to Lagrange’s attempt to return his painting: “I made a well considered and difficult decision to close the business and expect to realize significant savings in ongoing expenses”).
It would help if Glafira Rosales, a small-time Long Island art dealer, would divulge her source for the painting, which she sold to the renowned New York gallery alongside about 20 other fabulous, previously-unknown Abstract Expressionist works (she’s invoked her fifth amendment rights, and we may never know from whence they came). Heck, it would clarify things if Ann Freedman, who was Knoedler’s president at the time and closed the sale with Lagrange, hadn’t spent upwards of $500,000 on paintings by Pollock, Motherwell and Rothko supplied to her by Rosales for her personal collection.
Lagrange, a London hedge fund manager, bought the probably-Pollock in spite of its very fuzzy provenance and absence from the artist’s catalogue raisonné; he maintains that Freedman had assured him it would be included in an upcoming revision, which she denies. Either way, he probably didn’t know that a client had recently demanded his money back for a different Pollock from Freedman– who paid up promptly - after the International Foundation for Art Research declined to confirm the authenticity. What persuaded him, beyond great salesmanship and an irresistible artwork, was probably Knoedler’s reputation as a venerated gallery with a shining 165-year history. And this, everyone is speculating, is how Rosales could have gotten her incredible and unlikely cache of Abstract Expressionist masterpieces onto the art market in the first place.
The lack of provenance, absence of concrete authentication almost too-good-to-be-true nature of the artworks that eventually brought Knoedler between $27 and $37 million in profit were explained away by the Knoedler name; on one side there was Rosales whispering changing tales about an anonymous and wealthy Mexican buyer, while on the other stood the tall, silver-haired Freedman, who seems to believe to this day in the authenticity of this group of artworks. Various pieces have come into question over the past few years, with Lagrange’s being the most high-profile – and priciest.
In regards to the posthumous paints in his Untitled 1950, Freedman has noted that artists were often given experimental pigments to use before they became officially available to the public. Furthermore, the son of the man who created these paints for artists such as Pollock explains that separate elements for a pigment exist prior to its creation. Pigment dating, in other words, is not always decisive. The whole truth may never come out, as long as Michael Hammer remains in hiding, Glafira Rosales stays mum, and Ann Freedman insists, “The works are of a five-star quality.” As Patricia Cohen writes in the New York Times, “Whether any lawsuit or criminal investigation will provide a definitive answer to the mystery of the paintings is far from certain.”
It seems to me that the best possible outcome for all beleaguered parties would be an official stamp of authenticity for each Ab-Exp painting in question. But then detractors from the messy, masculine, abstract style wouldn’t get to make their jokes about a fifth-grader – or forger – being able to create the same thing.
Information taken from:
Patricia Cohen, Suitable for Suing, Feb. 22, 2012, New York Times.
The Knoedlers’ Meltdown: Inside the Forgery Scandal and Federal investigations, April 6, 2012, Vanity Fair.
Rachel Corbett, Lawyers Chase Elusive Figure in Knoedler Lawsuit, artnet.