“It’s long and complicated, but I still would do it,” he says. The convoluted tale told by Ron Pollard of Englewood should probably begin with …
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“It’s long and complicated, but I still would do it,” he
The convoluted tale told by Ron Pollard of Englewood should
probably begin with “Once Upon a Time…”
As he speaks about the collection of more than 150 “Orphan
Paintings: Unauthenticated Art of the Russian Avant-Garde”
currently exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, his
voice alternates between passionate engagement with this collection
of works and frustration at the lack of a paper trail, provenance,
that would connect him to their history. And impatience with the
highly structured art world and its concern with provenance
As advised early in the process, he consulted a lawyer and the
FBI, to be sure the works weren’t stolen.
“We own the paintings.” He also had a New York art expert fly to
Denver to look at the art, a very negative experience.
Framed paintings are displayed in a large gallery on the second
floor and unframed works are stacked in two adjacent hallways. They
came out of an important 20th century art movement called
Constructivist, Avant Garde, Suprematist, with a great deal of
recorded history. Idealistic, philosophical Russian painters drew
some inspiration from unsigned, spiritual icons, as well as
reflecting the cubist work exhibited in Europe at the time.
Non-objective and figurative works are included. It is noted by
many as the beginning of modern art.
The Suprematist Movement, led by prolific painter Kasimir
Malevich, a philosophical, mystical man included names such as
Liubov Popova, Nadezhda Uldaltsova, Ivan Kliun, Olga Rosanova,
Alexander Rodchenko and many more. Malevich and others worked in a
collective. His “Black Square” on a white field was an early
expression of non -objectivist feeling — and controversial.
Pollard thinks Malevich didn’t generally sign his work, nor did
his colleagues. There is handwriting on the back of one saying
“woman with a saw,” which a handwriting expert thinks matches his.
(It’s one of Pollard’s favorites in the show). It’s known that he
left work in Germany after a 1927 exhibit, because of conditions in
With the 1920s rise of Stalinism, this work was considered
rubbish, Pollard said. Artists were forced to paint what was
“politically correct,“ cease painting or emigrate. Where such art
had been bought by the state and placed in government-run museums,
it now entered a period when it was not recorded not cared for.
Wars and chaos perhaps obliterated records if any existed. “The
country was turned upside down and things shook out,” Pollard
“It’s not so much are they real, but what are they? I’m more
than agnostic. I’m kind of atheistic about them. I don’t really
care about what experts think. They are arrogant and controlling
the market,” he said.
Pollard has seen a lot of this art in museums and feels right
about the authenticity of works in the collection.
The story begins in 2004, when Pollard, an artist, architectural
photographer and collector with a longtime interest in the
Constructivist art movement in Russia circa 1910 to 1920s, was
surfing through art listed on e-bay and came across seven paintings
one day that “looked right.” He contacted his brother Roger, a
retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel living in Alaska, and they
decided to bid on one, winning the auction at $500. The seller in
Aachen, Germany, wrote about two more paintings which they also
Mixed messages began. A appraiser estimated the value of the
first acquisitions in the millions, but someone interested only in
selling, such as Sotheby Auction House wouldn’t consider them
without proof of origin — provenance.
The German seller, a collector in love with his art, said he
bought an unclaimed crate filled with such paintings.
Enter a third collector: Roger’s friend Brad Gessner, an
epidemiologist who was in Paris on a professional trip, arranged to
meet the seller and his adviser/interpreter at the Gare du Nord
train station in Paris and wrote a lively description of the
encounter in Feb. 2008 that led to more purchases.
He arrived at track 7 in time for the arrival of THYS 9416 and
found Jochen and Wolfgang (a smiling goofy bald man and his elder
accomplice). The latter was the collector, an intellectual with a
25 year addiction to Russian Avant-Garde art, actively involved in
a network of collectors, constantly buying and selling (his wife
objected that they needed money for food, etc.)
His assistant and interpreter Jochen, who did not seem well
acquainted with the art in question, “smelled just like the
paintings at the moment the package is opened and the smoky smell
washes out,” Gessner wrote.
Woll thought the paintings came out of schools in St. Petersburg
and Moscow, perhaps including student work at various levels:
entirely by a student, by a student with master’s suggestions,
student work with master’s brushstrokes added, entirely by the
master. (This sort of system dates back to Europe’s Old Masters and
MCAD director Adam Lerner makes a strong statement asking “what
precisely are we appreciating when we look at a work of art? Are we
appreciating what is visible to us, or is it a range of invisible
factors, such as the belief that it was made by a master or the
opinion of experts about its authenticity? This collection of
unauthenticated Russian avant-garde paintings asks: can an art
experience be authentic even if the status of art remains
questionable? Are there other forms of authenticity aside from
attribution to an artist?
What’s next when the paintings return to storage after Jan. 23?
Pollard hopes there will be more museum exhibits with national and
If you go:
“Orphan Paintings: Unauthenticated Art of the RussThe Museum of
Contemporary Art Denver is at 1485 Delgany St., Denver. (A block
from Union Station). Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through
Sundays, Fridays until 10 p.m. 303-298-7554, mcadenver.org
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