Aili and I watched the documentary Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006) last night and were intrigued enough to seek follow-up information. Briefly: 73-year old eccentric & former long-haul trucker Teri Horton buys a painting for $5 at a local thrift store. It is, ostensibly, ugly and she buys it primarily as a joke to cheer a friend up. Later, when trying to re-sell it in a garage sale, an art teacher informs her that it might well be a Jackson Pollock. She embarks on a mission to authenticate and sell the piece for what she believes is its true worth (something around 50 million dollars). Given that there is no signature on the painting and no provenance, the art-world is decidedly unimpressed. Here is the piece:
For general comparison sake, here is a genuine Pollack:
Side note: in my younger years, I used to find Pollocks as ugly as Teri Horton does, and as pretentious as Mondrian. I think that I now actually like these things. At least for museum walls - nothing I'd want hanging over my bed.
I won't relate the entirety of the docu-drama but will say that the saga continues to this day. Horton has apparently turned down offers of 2 and 9 million dollars, feeling insulted by them. Last winter, her piece was, for the first time, exhibited at a Toronto gallery which accepted its unusual authenticity:
They also placed it on sale for $50 million. Thomas Hoving, a self-declared "effete, nose-in-the-air art expert" (who makes an unforgettable appearance in the documentary) has argued repeatedly that the painting is not genuine for the following reasons:
* 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 unsized and his paint patterns can easily be seen from the back.
* The thing is painted with acrylics. Pollock never used acrylics."
You can read more of his response to the painting being exhibited here. Overall, I have to admit to being less than convinced myself, mostly due to the clear scientific bias that has gone into "proving" the piece is a Pollock. The individuals involved, in particular the forensic expert Paul Biro, seem determined to find evidence that establishes the authenticity of the painting. It certainly seems possible that the painting is a masterly "look-alike," perhaps even generated by this man, Francis Brown:
Ultimately, of course, the painting is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. And in this case, if you're a fan of wealth-redistribution, you can certainly root for Ms. Horton.