I’ve had one art DVD on my wishlist for years now, but I hadn’t given it much priority until today.
Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? is the 2006 documentary about 73-year-old former long-haul truck driver Teri Horton, who purchased a $5 painting from a thrift shop. The painting was supposed to be a gag gift for a friend — but now Horton believes that the painting is an original Jackson Pollock.
If the painting is by the famous abstract expressionist, it would be worth millions. What the documentary does is show the lengths this woman has gone through to try to prove the painting is a Pollock work, including fingerprint identification. But the road is not easy, as Randy Kennedy explains:
The filmmakers were initially fascinated by the science-versus-art angle of Ms. Horton’s story, about how forensics may be starting to nudge the entrenched tradition of connoisseurship from its perch in the world of art authentication. But as they spent more time with her, they began to see the movie as being about something more important than whether the painting was a real Pollock, a question left very much for the viewer to decide.
“It became, really, a story about class in America,” [director Harry Moses] said. “It’s a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education.”
The story obviously catches my attention, but it wasn’t until I read Frank Messina’s article, Nicolas Carone: Jazz, Poetry, And Jackson Pollock, in which Nicolas Carone, an expert on Pollock discusses his role in the saga of Horton’s painting, that I became motivated to move the film to the top of my wishlist:
In the film, Carone is brought in to physically inspect the painting. In a pivotal scene, Carone is asked by the film’s director, Harry Moses, whether or not the painting is authentic. Carone said he could not determine one way or the other. And with those few words, the painting remained in a cloud of mystery. After all, if Nicolas Carone couldn’t tell if it was authentic, then who could?
Relaxed in his favorite armchair in his studio, Carone spoke at length about the movie, and admitted being less than forthcoming when Harry Moses asked him about Teri Horton’s painting. “I was worried. I worried. I was advised not to tell that it is or it isn’t.” When I asked who had advised him, he ran his fingers across his lips as if closing a zipper. He then referred to a particular scene in the film when the Horton painting is compared side-by-side with an undisputed Pollock, “No. 5, 1948”, once owned by art collector Si Newhouse, chairman and CEO of Advance Publications and Conde Nast, (New Yorker Magazine, Vanity Fair), and more recently, record producer David Geffen. “The thing is, when they spliced the painting from Geffen, and they showed it with hers and they put it together like that. It looked exactly the same. That made me worry,” Carone said. I asked in what way. “In a way that it could’ve been a spliced painting. What she had, I looked at the canvas in the back. You know how you turn the painting, like this, the canvas, you turn it around,” Carone said, shaping his arms into a square. “All this on the side is still a continuation of the painting, and it’s cut there. This part is cut. I think that that painting was cut from another painting. It’s cut,” Carone said. “As if Pollock cut it?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.
And while Carone wouldn’t outright tell me whether the painting was authentic or not, he did offer a cryptic assessment when asked about the recent offer of $9,000,000 Horton received and refused for the painting. “I think if she holds out a little more—I think the Teri painting will go for more than nine million,” Carone said.
Despite this, there’s no news that Horton has received the $50 million she’s been holding out for; or that she’s even sold it at all. However, knowing Carone’s thoughts certainly adds a new layer to the story and makes me
want need to see this film. In part because the story simply will not die.