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Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

I discovered some forgotten coupons from my cable company last night. Four of them. Each entitles me to a free on-demand movie. I just have to choose the film from their list, enter the name and date on the coupon, and send the coupon in with my bill. Unfortunately, all four expire on October 31. That would be tomorrow. So I decided I'd look into one last night.

I ran down the titles and came across a documentary called Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? aka Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollock?, according to imdb. I watched it. It turned out to be surprisingly entertaining.

Teri Horton, a 70-something truckdriver, happens upon a painting at a thrift shop. She buys it for a sick friend for $5. When the painting can't fit through the friend's door Teri puts it into a yard sale. An art teacher happens by and says "that might be a Jackson Pollock". The first thing Teri says is, of course, "Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollock?" Then she goes to find out. She tracks down various members of the art world, gets varying responses, most of them negative, yet their dismissals fuel her drive. She describes herself as ignorant of the art world (and a look at her mobile home and its contents appears to confirm this) but she's not taking any of this lying down. And here's why: there appears to be no definitive way to prove, at least in this case, that the painting is authentic. Or isn't. The art world relies heavily on provenance - a "chain of custody", so to speak. If you can show that the painting found its way to you through sources that lead back to the artist, then chances of authentication are greater.

So Teri makes up a provenance. A rather complicated one involving a bartender in some way-out place, who supposedly was a friend of Pollock's, who hobnobbed with the film world and has many stories to tell of stars from the 40s and 50s. Pollock gave him the painting and the bartender finally sold it because he was down on his luck.

Apparently many of the art experts either bought the story or dismissed it without further investigation. They don't ask for further verification of details. And apparently fraudulent provenances are hardly uncommon.

The story gets more interesting when Teri engages the services of a forensic art detector from Canada. He investigates the painting and eventually finds a partial fingerprint, in paint, on the back of the painting. He hunts around for a fingerprint from Pollock, which turns out to be more difficult than you might think. Finally he finds another print on a paintcan in the artist's studio, which is maintained for historical purposes, and calls in a fingerprint expert, also from Canada. It's a match, he says.

But the art world isn't buying. Some say we have accounted for every possible painting Pollock did. Some say Pollock tossed paintings in trash cans when he didn't like them, gave them away, used them to pay for drinks. So there could easily be several out there that are not authenticated. There is some evidence that this is the case. Some art critics say, too, that fingerprints have no place in their world.

So what we have is a mild expose of the art world. A big question mark. Do they really know what they are talking about?

The film is surprisingly funny. Both the characters of Teri Horton and some of the art people and the writing of the narrative are often very funny and intriguing.

I wanted a bit more: I wanted some alternative fingerprint experts, some alternative forensics experts, to check the work of these two. I suspect more work could be done on the painting itself, on the paints, the layers, the canvas. Different critics approached the painting itself differently and came to opposite conclusions: some saying absolutely this is not Pollock, others saying it looks like it really is. So I would prefer to see more solid forensic evidence. And unlike the critics, I do see a place for forensics here. Even given these reservations on my part, which are small, I found this a terrific little film and I highly recommend it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 28th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)
Here's more on the movie, in case you are interested.

Nov. 29th, 2007 12:33 am (UTC)
Re: More
Thanks. I did in fact track down some of that info myself, because I too wanted to know more. I wanted to see a confirmation of the fingerprint "evidence" by another expert, for example, or an analysis of what was done. It appears that some experts have in fact attempted to verify the evidence and were unable to do so.

I suspect the painting is not by Jackson Pollock, on balance, and I think Ms. Horton was a bit foolish to pass up the terrific offers she got for it - but it appears, too, that money is not the issue for her.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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