Murky Art Mystery
Pollock’s provenance doubted by expert.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Aweek of dueling press conferences on the Pebble Beach art heist – one by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and the other featuring the victim’s representatives – has made the already murky whodunit curiouser and curiouser.
Two weeks ago, Angelo Amadio and Ralph Kennaugh reported what would be the second largest art theft in US history from their rented Pebble Beach home. Allegedly missing were works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Rodin, Jackson Pollock and Joan Miro.
The ensuing days brought whiplash-inducing plot twists enacted by central casting-worthy characters.
Ten days after the theft was reported, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office suggested the whole thing was a hoax, citing the two men’s failure to provide photos of the work, along with titles, dimensions, and the descriptions of the materials the pieces were made of. Commander Mike Richards declared Amadio and Kennaugh suspects – at the very least of making a false report to law enforcement.
Then last Friday, Vicki St. John, Amadio and Kennaugh’s civil attorney invited reporters to Santa Cruz’s Chaminade resort with the promise of proof that the stolen art was real.
Before facing reporters at the podium, St. John passed out copies of a 21-page document with some but not all of the details Sheriff’s detectives had requested, including an image of a Jackson Pollock painting, along with its size and medium. It was a gift to Kennaugh, Amadio said, and is worth $20 million or more.
David St. John said that he caught a glimpse of the Pollock – rolled up in a tube – when he visited Amadio and Kennaugh to talk insurance.
But the 7-foot-wide canvas with a black background and silvery squiggles is nowhere to be found in the official list of Pollock works, known as a catalogue raisonne, says Helen Harrison, Executive Director of the Pollock Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, N.Y., where the artist’s archives are kept.
“If it were real, it would be a major painting. It’s almost impossible that it would have slipped through the cracks. This is a big, big painting,” Harrison said. “The story is so outlandish, and I’ve heard some doozies.”
The missing Miro prints raised a red flag for one local museum official who asked not to be named. “There are many fraudulent Miro prints,” he said. “It is one of the areas where many beginning collectors have been burned.”
On Friday, Amadio said of the collection, “If someone thinks it’s not authentic or it’s not real, go find the stuff that was stolen and put it on the table.”
Vicki St. John said that Amadio and Kennaugh were exhausted and wouldn’t attend the press conference, but the cameras and notebooks seemed to draw Amadio like moths to a flame. Reporters chatted him up as he tucked into a salad at the Chaminade bar after the meeting, despite repeated warnings from the two St. Johns to “zip it.”
Monterey-area art mavens are baffled by the affair. The local museum official noted several clues that the story was amiss, including the alleged victims’ inability to provide information about the source of their collection.
“Collecting is like consummating a romance – [it’s] a visceral thing,” the official said, adding that art collectors remember the hunt as they might remember the birth of a child.