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“Who the #@$% is
Jackson Pollock?” That’s the title and essential query at the heart of a
documentary I just watched for the first time with one of my classes at UTA.
Like many, from stories in the NYT and on 60 Minutes, I was aware of the hard-drinking,
trash-talkin’ lady trucker who bought what she thought was an incredibly ugly
painting in a thriftstore as a gag gift for a sick friend. The asking price was
$8 – she negotiated it down to $5. It wouldn’t fit into her friend’s trailer home,
so she put it in a yard sale. A local art teacher suggested that she might have
a Jackson Pollock on her hands. And so began her plummet down the rabbit hole, into
the Bizarro world of fine art. Oh, cursed, cursed day. You can’t help but


Who was Pollock;
more to the point, what constitutes authenticity in one of his works? To make a
long story short (and the movie, at only an hour and change, starts to drag as
it flogs already belabored points), Teri Horton spends a decade knocking on art
world doors, trying to get a single foot in to answer that question. Instead, the gate keepers pull
back their peephole shutters, see a chain-smoking plebe on the step, sniff, and
bolt another lock.

Granted, it’s
quite a tale. But you just want to slap some sense in the parade of “experts”
who keep saying that there is simply no
a Pollock could appear today, without clear provenance. Have these
people never seen Antiques Roadshow? There's sharp irony that when she stopped
telling the truth, and made up a story about a bar owner giving the painting to her, art
world denizens started to listen. Fictional publican “Pops” had known alch-y Pollock well, she
said, and in a snowed-in drunken celebrity-laden weekend orgy in Reno, Pollock had painted
the thing, signing it (while standing on the bar) with his pecker. You know
that had the ring of mythic truth to the art priests, whose livelihoods are woven
with gossamer threads of mystery and anecdote. Cagney and Bogart and John Wayne
were there, and that bitch Joan Crawford nagged Jackson all weekend, telling him how to paint, and he didn’t like it.
You can just hear him (or better looking Ed Harris playing him) angrily slurring “F___ off,
you c___!” Genius – it would make a great Jorg Immendorf or Red Grooms painting. Horton
randomly ended up with the art world’s number, and she’s been crank-calling it for years.

The movie parades
out a host of self-declared connoisseurs who proclaim that this in no way can
be a real Pollock. The most egregious bastard among them by far is Thomas
Hoving, former director of the Met, who I would pay real Pollock price for a chance to
spit in the eye. He’s like a New Yorker cartoon, this guy. Do people actually talk like this, you wonder? Who put this guy in charge of the Met, for chrissakes? He’s
unbelievable – an overblown caricature of a snob. Horton’s defenders basically have piles of irrefutable forensic
proof that Pollock made the thing, including fingerprints, chemical analysis, microscopy, and
side by side detail photos of nearly identical works that are indeed authenticated
– famous even. I particularly liked the expert forger (who seemingly can copy
almost any style, save Pollock he says) who upon seeing Horton's piece seems really moved, saying that the painting is
lovely and inimitable. Horton’s camp is
a bit of a motley crew of frauds, forgers, swindlers, and raspy bar flies. Contrasted with their class-ier foes, you
love them for their admittedly messy, nicotine-stained hands, as you’re supposed to. The film isn’t
unbiased. But then, who’s rooting for the righteous stuffed shirts who, from
their own testimony, come off so badly? What castle are they defending? Can’t
they just say, “well, maybe. It’s worth considering”?

Instead, in the
face of all the flak, Hoving and others act unperturbed, stating
unequivocally that none of it matters, and their “expert taste” is the one and only
rule. Science is cute, they say, a darling novelty, but unimportant in these matters. Gak. Pass the pepto. Hoving does a ridiculous song
and dance about his “blink” moment (said with peculiar emphasis, indicating blather
picked up from the Oprah-driven bestseller that came out about the time of
filming,) where he can sense instantly if a work is real or not.

Look, I’m nobody,
but I’ve seen a lot of Pollocks too, and this one looks as good as many, and
better than some. Pound for pound, million dollar for 100 million dollar, the guy is one of the
most uneven artists ever (our local DMA has proof, as do many other museums worldwide), and all the experts/cronies claiming that this color or
that area makes it impossible for him to have made this one thing, or worse
that it just gives off the wrong vibe, is literally laughable. It made a bunch
of 20 year olds chuckle at 8 in the morning, and that’s a stiff litmus test –
at least it speaks to the entertainment value of the movie.

To date, Horton’s
passed on offers up to $9 million, which is kind of crazy. She admits she just
wants to get rid of the thing, so why’s she holding out? The film gives compelling clues for her attachment to it, beyond the financial. Her friends say the fight has given her as much reason to live as anything. Apparently it
still does – I can’t find any recent information about the possible sale of the
work, though I did find a snarky email from yet another art world organization
to her. I have a feeling that the DNA wagon will get rolled out soon, and we might
have definitive proof. Maybe then Thomas Hoving can be made to restoratively lick the surface
clean or something. Ah, only in dreams…

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