When representatives of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal of Scottsdale, Arizona were summoned to the home of a local retiree, they thought they were there to look at a poster signed by the 1992 Los Angeles Lakers. What they found in the garage, however, has made them the talk of the auction world: a gouache painting that may be a long-lost work by Abstract Expressionist legend Jackson Pollock.
“We asked ourselves immediately what everyone else would, ‘why is this in Arizona?’” Josh Levine, the company’s CEO, told CBS. As it turns out, the homeowner had inherited a collection of paintings from his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, who lived in New York and was friends with art critic Clement Greenberg and artist Hazel Guggenheim McKinley, sister of Peggy Guggenheim.
It was, therefore, clear that Cosgriff ran in the same social circles as Pollock.
Levine spent 18 months looking into the matter, determining that Cosgriff likely attended Pollock’s gallery exhibitions and could have easily acquired one of his works there. Her friend, Australian artist Barbara McKay, who lived in New York at the time, added further credence to the theory.
“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, [am sure] that this is the original painting,” McKay wrote in an email to the Arizona Republic.
Next, the painting was tested by Peter Paul Biro, a Canadian forensic art expert, who determined the materials used in the work were similar to those present in Pollock gouaches. “I actually felt weightless,” Levine told CNN of receiving this confirmation. “I was actually kind of worried I was having a panic attack or something.”
Biro is well known for using fingerprint analysis to authenticate another Pollock, purchased by truck driver Teri Horton for $5 at a thrift store. Horton’s quest to have the work accepted by art world authorities was the subject of the 2006 film Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? The canvas was exhibited at Toronto’s Gallery Delisle with a $50 million price tag in 2008 but is of yet unsold.
(Biro’s methods were called into question in a 2010 New Yorker article. He lost a subsequent defamation suit against the publication.)
Like Horton, Cosgriff’s half-brother had no idea who Pollock was at the time of his discovery—but he could be in for a huge windfall, should buyers believe the canvas is the real deal. Biro himself, however, is cautious as to what he can say about the new Pollock find.
“I did not ‘authenticate’ the Levine painting,” Biro clarified in an email to artnet News. “I merely found no materials in the painting that may contradict the dating.”
The garage Pollock is now thought to have been created between 1945 and 1949. It shows some signs of smoke damage and discoloration, likely from being hung in the home of a smoker, and requires restoration work that could cost as much as $50,000.
“I’m not a Jackson Pollock expert, but I do know that when it comes to Pollock, anything is possible,” art authenticator Richard Polsky, who specializes in identifying works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, told artnet News in an email. “I recall when Allan Stone told me about a Pollock painting that he once bought which was found in a dump out in the Hamptons. On one side there was a hand-painted sign advertising a house that was for sale. On the other side was a Pollock painting. Allan—who was an Abstract Expressionist expert—bought the the painting and wound up selling it for a nice profit.”
The auction will be held June 20. Other works from the same collection were included in a January 2016 sale at J. Levine. Paintings said to be by Jules Olitski, McKinley, and Cora Kelley Ward all found buyers, and a Kenneth Noland acrylic painting titled Replace! hammered down at $110,000 to a phone bidder in New Jersey.
“I keep getting more solid information as each day goes by,” Levine assured Money of the upcoming sale. “I would go to my grave that this is a Jackson Pollock.”
The auction house expects ‘Jenifer’s Jackson Pollock’ to sell for $10–15 million, with bidding starting at $5 million. For comparison’s sake, the Lakers poster only ended up being worth $300.
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