Sunday, September 09, 2007

Latest on the Pollock-Matter Matter (UPDATED)

I've been meaning to update on the "Pollock Matters" show, which opened at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art last weekend. The Boston Globe's Geoff Edgers was there:

"The Matter pictures were only a part of the exhibition, which features more than 170 works over two floors. 'Pollock Matters' explores the relationship between the two couples, Herbert Matter and his artist wife, Mercedes, and Pollock and abstract painter Lee Krasner. To that end, the galleries feature photographs and paintings by the Matters, Krasner's canvases, copies of journals, letters, and a handful of undisputed Pollocks, including the MFA's 'Number 10.' Downstairs, the Matter pictures were displayed in a separate room and not credited to a particular artist. The room was a prime destination."

Globe art critic Ken Johnson reviews the show here: "If the two dozen small paintings discovered by Alex Matter five years ago in his deceased parents' storage locker are not by Jackson Pollock, then I'd like to congratulate whoever did make them. Now on view for the first time in a fascinating, much anticipated exhibition called 'Pollock Matters' at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art, they are beautiful little pictures."

Then, on Tuesday, as if there wasn't enough controversy surrounding the exhibition, Edgers reported at his blog that, having been denied permission to reproduce any real Pollocks in the show's catalog, the museum went ahead and included certain images anyway, on fair use grounds. The school issued the following statement:

"Following the Pollock Krasner Foundation's decision to withhold permission to reproduce works of Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock in the PollockMatters catalogue, Boston College worked closely with copyright counsel to produce a catalogue incorporating those images needed to publish our contributors' scholarship in conformity with fair use principles."

More here on this "latest wrinkle" from Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic Steven Litt.

"Fair use" cases are notoriously difficult to call, and I haven't seen exactly how the images are used in the catalog, but as a general matter this kind of scholarship/research use should at least have a fighting chance. The fact that the museum first asked for permission should not be dispositive either: recall the recent Grateful Dead decision, finding fair use in a case where the publisher's request for a license had previously been rejected.

UPDATE: Sergio Muñoz-Sarmiento thinks "Boston College seems to have a valid and solid reason for dismissing the Pollock Estate’s denial."