Josh Levine talks about an original Jackson Pollock painting, June 6, 2017, in a conference room at J. Levine Auction and Appraisal in Scottsdale. Levine expects the painting to sell for between $10 million and $15 million. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
Corrections & clarifications: A previous version of this story misidentified where the painting was found inside the home.
Jackson Pollock spent nearly all of his youth in Arizona and California. He even left a tiny bit of himself in Phoenix, close to what is now Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The 20th-century artist, internationally known for abstract, splatter and “drip” paintings, became a sensation in the New York art world starting in the 1940s until his death in 1956.
So how is it that one of Pollock’s paintings might have found its way into a Sun City garage?
Josh Levine, owner and founder of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal LLC, said that he received a phone call from a Sun City resident, asking his firm to look at Los Angeles Lakers memorabilia that was signed by longtime star Kobe Bryant.
What they found in addition seemed to be a proverbial treasure chest of 20th-century modern art, including works that appear to be created by Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Cora Kelley Ward and Pollock.
Did he have a Pollock in hand? The possibility captured Levine’s interest. Knowing how common fraud is in the art world, he says he spent more than $50,000 on forensics reports and private investigators to trace the lineage of the piece.
A journey from New York to Sun City
Levine walked through the connection from Pollock to the Sun City homeowner, whose name is not being released. Levine said he was a patient at an assisted-living facility and was being represented by a person with power of attorney over his estate.
“As we went through the pieces, we saw that every single one of these artists were from the same social circle as Clement Greenberg,” Levine said of the garage treasure trove.
Greenberg was a well-known American modern art critic and essayist in New York in the mid-20th century.
“If he said you were great, then you were great,” Levine said.
Greenberg also is known as an early promoter of Pollock’s work.
Levine said that the paintings were bequeathed to the Sun City homeowner by his sister, Jenifer Gordon, a close friend of Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim, an art collector and socialite also important in promoting Pollock’s work.
Barbara McKay, an Australian artist who was friends with Gordon and Greenberg and lived in New York in the early 1980s, said she knew that Gordon had received a Pollock sometime during her life.
“I knew that Jenifer had a Pollock and, as confident as I could be, given that photographs are never as clear as seeing the painting in the flesh, that this is the original painting,” McKay said in an email to The Arizona Republic.
The forensics report, done by Peter Paul Biro, said that the paint on the alleged Pollock contained no pigments or binding that was introduced after Pollock’s death.
This revelation, combined with information provided by private investigators hired by Levine, left no doubt in his mind that he was in possession of the real deal.
“I’m brave enough to call it a Jackson Pollock and put my entire reputation on it,” Levine said.
The Noland that Levine found, titled “Replace!,” sold for $110,000 in early 2016.
Auction set for June 20 in Scottsdale
Levine, who is auctioning the Pollock piece at his auction house in Scottsdale on June 20, expects it to sell for at least $10 million.
“The owner of the painting had no idea what he had. He said to me, ‘I didn’t even know who he (Pollock) was until you told me about him,’ ” Levine said.
“It just doesn’t get any better than that. I’m almost sad that these past 18 months of research are going to be over,” Levine said.
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