WYWH: NYCLA Discussion of Forensic Art Analysis

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 5.14.46 PMby Megan Noh, Esq.*

On Wednesday, April 1st, the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA)s Art Law Committee hosted James Martin, founder of Orion Analytical LLC, an independent laboratory dedicated to examining cultural property in authenticity studies and legal proceedings. Martin is a frequent guest in New York City; he recently gave a lecture at Center for Art Law’s “Youve Been Served” event, and is also an adjunct professor at the New York University School for Continued Education. Martin uses a range of scientific techniques – including technical photography, microscopy, elemental analysis, and chemical analysis of materials – to compare questioned and documented works, and identify anachronisms and anomalies in fraudulent and misattributed works. Mr. Martins presentation focused on his work in the context of several prominent art authenticity claims.

The first such instance was the widely-reported controversy surrounding 32 canvasses claimed by owner Alex Matter to be previously-unknown Jackson Pollock “drip/pour” works dating from 1946-1949. Mr. Matter purportedly discovered these works in an East Hampton warehouse in approximately 2002, and although the Pollock-Krasner Foundation officially ceased issuing authenticity opinions in the mid-1990s, its then-remaining members did express opinions about the Matter canvasses. Unfortunately, those opinions conflicted; as a result, three of the works were sent to Harvards Straus Center for Conservation, and more than twenty to Orion, so that both laboratories could conduct independent analyses. Mr. Martin found at least six anachronistic materials in the Matter canvasses he studied, including an automotive pigment first used on Ferrari automobiles in the 1980s, well after the works supposed date of execution. Orions official conclusion was that this scientific evidence indicated that the date and attribution of the works were not as alleged by Mr. Matter. Mr. Martin presented these findings, which were consistent with Harvards report of its own analysis (issued in January 2007) at an IFAR symposium in November 2007 and in a 2008 volume of IFARs journal, thus putting the matter to rest in New Yorks art community.

The second authenticity claim Mr. Martin discussed with NYCLAs ALC members was Lagrange v. Knoedler; Mr. Martin was cautious to limit his discussion to non-privileged information. (See our Knoedler Obituary). In this 2011 suit filed in the Southern District of New York, billionaire hedge fund manager Pierre Lagrange brought claims for breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment against the then-venerable American gallery where he had purchased a work attributed to Jackson Pollock. According to the complaint, at the time of purchase, Knoedler told Mr. Lagrange that the Pollock catalogue raisonné was in the process of being updated, and would ultimately include the painting in question. However, several years after his purchase, Mr. Lagrange tried to consign the painting for auction, and two major auction houses rejected it on the basis that it was not included in the catalogue raisonné. Mr. Lagrange sought to rescind the Knoedler sale, alleging that there were in fact never any definitive plans to update the catalogue raisonné to include the painting in question, and that Knoedler had knowingly misrepresented these facts in order to sell him the work. Orion was retained to analyze the painting, and found at least three paints that were produced later than its purported 1950 date of execution. Apparently Knoedler shut its doors a day after receivingOrions report and the two sides subsequently reached a confidential settlement, while other cases brought against Knoedler are still pending.

This NYCLA meeting was a wonderful opportunity for members to learn more about the importance of scientific analysis in what Mr. Martin refers to as the “three-legged stool” model of authentication, where connoisseurship and provenance are supported by a third essential element: technical and scientific examination of physical substance. As the art market grows in complexity and commercial value, and questions of attribution become increasingly contentious and convoluted, authentication methodology will continue to evolve. It is likely that collectors and the attorneys who represent them will place more weight on this leg of the so-called stool, and Mr. Martins presentation was a welcome primer in that area.

Suggested Reading:

  • De Sole v. Knoedler Gallery, LLC, 974 F. Supp. 2d 274 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).
  • The Martin Hilti Family Trust v. Knoedler Gallery, LLC et al., 1:2013-cv-00657(S.D.N.Y. Jan 29, 2013).
  • White v. Freedman et al., 1:2013-cv-01193 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2013).
  • David Mirvish Gallery Limited et al v. Knoedler Gallery, LLC, 1:2013-cv-01216 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2013).
  • The Arthur Taubman Trust et al v. Knoedler Gallery, LLC et al., 1:2013-cv- 03011 (S.D.N.Y. May 3, 2013).
  • Rosenfeld v. Knoedler Gallery, 653030/2013 (Aug. 30, 2013).

About the author: Megan E. Noh, Esq. is the Assistant General Counsel of Bonhams and an active member of both the New York City Bar Association’s Art Law Committee and the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

Disclaimer: This and all articles are intended as general information, not legal advice, and offer no substitution for seeking representation.

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