CSI: Art Edition
Forensic scientist Nicholas Petraco, who analyzed ashes in our podcast “The Troubled Cremation of Stevie the Cat,” is currently embroiled in a debate about a Jackson Pollock painting. From The New York Times:
On one side stands Francis V. O’Connor, a stately Old World-style connoisseur with a Vandyke beard and curled mustache, who believes erudition and a practiced eye are essential to judging authenticity. Mr. O’Connor, a co-editor of the definitive Pollock catalog and a member of the now-disbanded Pollock-Krasner Foundation authentication committee, said “Red, Black and Silver” does not look like a Pollock.
“I don’t think there’s a Pollock expert in world that would look at that painting and agree it was a Pollock,” Mr. O’Connor said at a symposium this month.
On the other side is Nicholas D. K. Petraco, a retired New York City detective and forensics specialist who examined the painting at the request of the Kligman estate. Approaching the canvas board as if it were a body at a crime scene, Mr. Petraco said he had no doubt the painting was made at the Pollock house and is linked to Pollock.
“I’ve had cases with less materials than this where people are spending 25 to 30 years in jail,” he said.
The authenticity of the painting is an expensive question for the owner, but the case also represents a shift from determining true authorship via art expert opinion to determination via forensic evidence. Petraco thinks he’s solved the puzzle with an unlikely piece of evidence:
In this case, Mr. Petraco said the clincher was discovering a polar bear hair, a rare find in a country that has banned the import of polar bear products for more than 40 years.
“Is there a polar bear in this story?” Mr. Petraco wondered.
There was. A polar bear rug that had adorned the living room floor in 1956 was still in the East Hampton attic.