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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock

Teri Horton and her Pollock "masterpiece" (2006).
Usually, when I write about the art of motion pictures, I choose from the top 100 on some list of classic epics which have won multiple awards and taken home millions in profits from the box office. That's not the case with the 74-minute 1996 documentary with the intriguing title, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock. Unlike the Sony epic Pollock from 2000, which earned at the box office a modest profit (for a film about an artist) of about $2-million, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock is not really about Jackson Pollock. It's about a spunky, seventy-three-year-old, long-haul truck driver named Teri Horton, although she is, in many ways, very much like Pollock.
Let's let Teri Horton begin her story in the trailer for her movie debut:

The entire movie is available on YouTube at:

For the benefit of those who, like Teri Horton, know little or nothing about Jackson Pollock, he was born in 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. He was the fifth and youngest son. At an early age, Pollock was exposed to Native Americans and their art which would later influence his work. He attended the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School where he was persuaded to take up a career in art. In 1930 along with his eldest brother, Pollock moved to New York City where he studied under Thomas Hart Breton at the Art Students League. At the yearly school exhibit, he met his future wife, Lee Krasner, a fellow artist, who was viewing his work. From 1935 to 1943, Pollock worked for the Works Project Association (WPA) Federal Arts Project (FAP). During this time Pollock was introduced to liquid paint in 1936 by Mexican muralist David Siqueiros, though he didn’t use it until his "drip" period. His early art was influenced by Picasso and Miró, as well as Surrealism and Native American art. In 1943, Jackson had his first solo exhibit. Peggy Guggenheim sponsored it and guaranteed him a salary of $150 a month.

Jack the Dripper, ca. 1952.
The retired truck driver, Teri Horton, is the perfect lead for the documentary produced by Don Hewitt, Steven Hewitt, and Michael Lynne, directed by Harry Moses. If she hadn't existed, they would have had to invent her. Moreover, having had no experience in acting or motion pictures other than playing herself, Horton "carries" the picture superbly. She's nothing if not colorful in the best salty, truck-driving sense of the word while at the same time being quite believable. Moreover, she also believes in her own brand of fairy tales with happy endings. Ironically, Jackson Pollock is not her favorite artist. She'd more the Norman Rockwell type.

Teri Horton--she may not look the part, but she plays her
retired truck driver role to the hilt.
In trying to sell her unauthenticated Pollock, Teri Horton first turned to the effete world of Pollock collectors, who did a lot of salivating at the prospect of obtaining a Jackson Pollock for a "mere" $50-million, without a signature on the painting or irrefutable provenance, they wouldn't touch it. Turning next to so-called Pollock "experts" didn't help much though some were inclined to back her claim to fame. Others had doubts, and in the art authenticating business, even small doubts count for a lot. Inevitably, that left only scientific forensic examinations of the painting itself, its structure, its canvas, its paint, it's technique, its aging, and any peculiarities tying it to the artist and his other authenticated pieces.

Teri Horton's biggest hurdle involves the fact that Pollock's work
had so often been copied, even during his short, tragic, professional lifetime. The total number of authenticated works has been put at just over one-hundred. Their prices range from the tens of millions upward to a recent sale for $140-million. That kind of money brings forgeries and copies like termites out of the woodwork, casting doubt on even lesser-known authentic pieces.
Thomas Hoving, former director of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,
About the same time, their came the filmmakers who quickly brought Horton and her serendipitous find to public attentions with guest spots with Leno on The Tonight show, as well as appearances with David Letterman and Montel Williams. As this smart, hard-bitten woman with an eighth-grade education pursuing her quest, the documentary por-trays the debate between con-noisseurship and science as a culture war. Among the connoisseurs who insist that a refined eye is the ultimate judge of authenticity is Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, exuding contempt and superciliousness. He is the most outspoken in his rejection. Shown the painting, he dismisses it as “pretty, superficial, and frivolous.”

A comparison of the real thing with questionable wanna-be.
Horton insists that forensic, scientific facts prove her Pollock's authenticity. Key to this claim was fingerprint analysis by Montreal art restorer, Peter Paul Biró. Biro, a self-satisfied forensic specialist from Canada found a fingerprint on the back of Ms. Horton’s painting, which he matched to fingerprints found on a Pollock painting in Berlin and in Pollock’s former studio in East Hampton, N.Y. By the end of the film, you are left with the unpleasant sense that the art world snobs have drawn their wagons into a circle to keep out hicks like Teri. Horton and her experts These smooth-talking "connoisseurs" gladly take on the role as guardians of an insular world that enriches itself through a kind of legal insider trading, and are deeply threatened by the intrusions of forensic science. The movie calls into question the ultimate reliance on provenance, in which a history of a painting’s ownership is the sole criteria used for certification.

Become an art expert. Examine Teri Horton's Pollock closely.
What's your verdict? Is it real or is it ugly? 
To give equal time to the "snooty" Thomas Hoving, who pooh-poohed fake-busting on only scientific grounds, he had this to say following his lengthy examination of Teri Horton's Pollock: "It is too neat and too sweet, using soigné colors that Pollock never used. Some lines are perfectly straight--it’s hard to drip straight lines. The canvas is commercially sized, which means that paint does not come through the back of the canvas. All real Pollocks are in-sized and his paint patterns can easily be seen from the back. Also, the thing is painted with acrylics. Pollock never used acrylics." Hoving goes on to add that his impression suggests that the painting was never intended to be a fake Pollock but what he terms a "decorator piece" commissioned in the 1950s as inexpensive status symbols. By the way, recent indications are the Ms. Horton has not yet found a buyer wealthy enough for her painting.


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