An auctioneer in Arizona believes he has “bulletproof” evidence his team has discovered an original Jackson Pollock painting that has been tucked away in a garage for years, and is now expected to fetch $10 to $15 million when it hits the auction block on June 20.
Josh Levine, owner and founder of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal LLC, said his company stumbled upon the possible Pollock, along with several other paintings from notable artists such as Kenneth Noland, Hazel Guggenheim McKinley, Jules Olitski and Cora Kelley Ward, when they were called out to perform appraisals for an estate sale in Sun City.
“Our gentlemen that handles the West Valley went out to the house and the lad was telling him ‘We found an LA Lakers poster that Kobe Bryant has signed,’” Levine recalled. “He could tell they were just cleaning the house out. The gentleman was moving into assisted living, and his neighbor was assigned as his power of attorney to help out with everything.”
Once the consignment specialist, Terry Maust, laid eyes on the stack of paintings in the corner of the garage, he called Levine at the office and said, “Wow, there’s some really weird art here,” said Levine.
Maust sent photos to his colleagues who quickly realized they had stumbled upon a rare, eclectic, impressive find.
“The first picture was a Kenneth Noland,” Levine explained. “I saw the diamond shape and I was like, ‘I think those are worth a lot of money. Let’s research it.’ It turned out it was about a $100,000 painting.’”
The 20th-century modern art seemed out of place for the homeowner, who wished to remain anonymous, as the décor of his house was “typically Southwestern.” But after much research into the history of these paintings, Levine learned they had all belonged to the homeowner’s estranged sister, Jenifer Gordon (Walker).
She was a striking New York socialite who rubbed elbows with the city’s rich and famous, including Peggy Guggenheim and Clement Greenberg, an American modern art critic.
“Peggy Guggenheim was writing her letters. This woman was really connected,” Levine said. “All of these artists were in the circle of Jackson Pollock. There were 14 originals from these artists, and they were all her friends. Everything on the back would say ‘To Jenifer.’ She knew them all on a first-name basis. Her old Rolodex was in there with these artists’ names and their summer homes and everything. It was amazing. She was having a lifelong affair with Harold Loeb, who is the Guggenheim’s first cousin. He was best friends with Ernest Hemingway. I’ve seen all the letters.”
Levine explained that when the homeowner’s sister died, “He went out and took care of her personal affairs and shipped all of her belongings back to Sun City.
“Half of it was still in the boxes from when he shipped it in the early 90s,” he continued. “The sister was the one who lived in the big city. Everybody else was out here in Nebraska, Wyoming and Arizona. They didn’t know anything about her art history.”
In addition to all of the whimsical details of Gordon’s relationships with the art world’s power players of the era, he was also validated with a phone call from Barbara McKay, an Australian artist who said she was friends with Gordon and Greenberg while living in New York. She also told him she knew Gordon had owned an authentic Pollock in her lifetime.
"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 wrote in an email to The Arizona Republic.
Levine also poured his energy and resources into the forensics of the painting.
“I wanted the chemical analysis to prove the paint was pre-1955, before Pollock died,” he said. “I wanted to make sure all the materials were all pre-‘55, which it did. The expert put in there that some of the materials are known to be ones in his other paintings.
“This has bulletproof provenance that this woman and Jackson Pollock knew each other and she would have one,” said Levine.
In hindsight, Levine is thrilled he never had the painting restored despite it being heavily damaged.
“It has such heavy smoke damage,” he said. “The best part is Barbara McKay telling me about how hardcore they partied. You know this painting has such a story.”
The painting, which measures 22.5 by 32 inches, is available for online bidding now, with live bidding set to begin on June 20.
“The family is really excited, a little scared, but excited,” said Levine. “You find out your long-lost aunt has a painting that might be worth a fortune -- it’s a great story.”
As for Levine?
“I know it’s right,” he said of the painting’s authenticity. “Will the world and the bidders accept it? So far, I’ve been really, really impressed. I’ve seen a couple of naysayers, but not what I expected. I think the evidence is too good."