Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dripping with Authenticity

So someone turns up with a collection of drip paintings hidden away for years in a Long Island storage shed, and a claim is made that they are the work of Jackson Pollock. A study is done, turns out that some of the paints could not have existed when Pollock was working. Quite a bit of money and some careers are at stake one way or another, all based upon the question of whether Jackson Pollock was the painter.

Curiously absent from the whole discussion, at least as it has reached the press, is a voice willing to step up and say -- without regard to provenance -- whether the paintings are any good. Indeed, there is little information to be found about the paintings at all beyond the possible Pollock connection.

What would have happened if the whole story had been framed differently, as a newly discovered cache of drip paintings by an unknown artist? How valuable would the paintings then be? Would our assessment of Pollock or of the drip painting history in general be changed?

The Mozart year had a small coda with the apparent discovery of a juvenile piano piece (which the papers liked to identify, in typical overstatement, as a "Concerto"). What was added to our knowledge of Mozart with the piece? What was added to the piece by I.D.-ing it as Mozart's? On the other hand, what can that piece do for a scholar's career if the I.D. is accepted or rejected? And for the "first" performer or the first recording?

These things really have a lot to do with contemporary careers and reputations, sometimes a bit (in the case of the Pollock, a large bit) to do with money, and are sometimes entertaining. I've enough ethnographic training to recognize the importance of context, but in cases like these, I just want to hear a case made for the works themselves.

(Here are some links).

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