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Jackson Pollock's lost painting?
October 18, 2007 11:44 PM   Subscribe

Who The Fuck Is Jackson Pollock? is a documentary about Teri Horton. She purchased a painting from a thrift store for $5 and later found out that Jackson Pollock may have painted it. Some video here and the "forensic evidence" here.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (44 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now along comes a press release that tries to debunk the fingerprint evidence from my last link.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:03 AM on October 19, 2007


Thanks. I love movies about "the little guy taking on the system". And this chick is great. Doesn't matter if in the end it's not a Pollock painting. I'm just sick of the system. I'm sure the art experts and Jackson Pollock fans will be along shortly to offer much more informed comments than mine. I don't know anything about paintings and I know nothing about Jackson Pollock other than he is a famous painter who paints the kind of art I can't appreciate (the messy kind, you know?). So I can't comment on that aspect.

But this thing about "the system". Whether it's the medical establishment or the art world, none of these people want to give anyone the time of day. If you don't have a degree and aren't part of their elitist circle, then you might as well not exist. I know, I know, experts are important and I'm sure many of them have earned their attitudes. They deserve respect. But how do you know so many great things and still see the world so small? Where is the curiosity?

There was a relevant AskMefi thread a while ago that really got to me. I can't remember enough specifics to link. A person who'd been suffering from a rare medical condition for a long time and had researched and studied the heck out of the disease, had an idea for a treatment or a critical new piece of information or something like that. But doctors wouldn't give her the time of day. It's not like she had her own lab or any way of testing her hypothesis. And the people who were in a position to do so would never even think of it. She wanted to know if there was a way to use the power of the web to get her findings heard.

So many doctors and other scientists posted in the thread and said that if she wanted this to go further, she'd really have to go to medical school and establish herself as a scientist. Because no way would a layperson be heard. Not even get a foot in the door. And they didn't seem to see anything wrong with that attitude.

I know I'm an inexperienced idealistic girl. And I don't know much about art or Jackson Pollock. But the name sounds big enough that if I loved art and had the opportunity to discover a new work by him, my curiosity would overwhelm me. I'm sure they've come across plenty of fakes and maybe they're cynical. But to not let her in the door? She bought it in a thrift store. The people who authenticate this could have the story of a lifetime. Where's the passion that got them into this field in the first place? What's the big threat?
posted by Danila at 12:11 AM on October 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Nice derail/axe grind, Danila.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:41 AM on October 19, 2007 [4 favorites]


Compare this to Harry Rodenstock who managed to con thousands of rich morons out of millions of dollars by selling them box wine in pretty bottles.

I remember listening to this story in a podcast from pri/npr or the bbc. Or maybe both. The one thing that convinced me, absolutely sold me, that it was a class issue was an auction house expert that repeatedly used the word "one" as a pronoun.
posted by stavrogin at 12:42 AM on October 19, 2007


Who the fuck is Jackson Pollack? If he painted it, it's probably only worth $5.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:05 AM on October 19, 2007


During this research, I located and examined numerous fingerprints on reproductions of Pollock’s paintings.

This so-called "forensic" expert didn't have access to Pollock's originals.
This is all pretty contrived.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:28 AM on October 19, 2007


In what way is Danila's post a derail? Seems like it's right on the nose to me. I have no idea if this painting is a Pollock or not. I do know that even if it is a Pollock, there's no way it will ever be a Pollock as far as the established art world is concerned. You'd need like a photograph of Pollock standing next to the thing with a note, in Pollack's writing, that says "I PAINTED THIS."

And even then there would be holdouts.
posted by Justinian at 1:33 AM on October 19, 2007


I think this is the thread Danila refers to. I think she's misrepresented it, actually.
posted by jacalata at 2:38 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I thought it was this one.
posted by pieoverdone at 2:55 AM on October 19, 2007


It was neither one of those, although the one jacalata links to has some examples of the attitude I'm talking about. Mainly fourcheesemac's posts.

But this case seems even more simple.

If what you do, what you live and breathe, is art, and something like this comes along....I mean, it's the extraordinary. Or at least the opportunity for something extraordinary, in the field you are most passionate about. But I guess when you're cozy and comfortable, properly dubbed an "expert" and all that, why be bothered? I just don't understand what happens, all I know is it makes me mad. And I'm sure there are perfectly rational explanations and defenses. And I'm sure this documentary is probably filled with emotional rhetoric distorting a "complex issue".

I'm still going to see it though. And maybe learn something about Jackson Pollock.
posted by Danila at 3:25 AM on October 19, 2007


Is the use of the word "one" as a pronoun confined to a specific class? I do it all the time when I feel it is the most precise ( or least offensive ) pronoun for the job, what does that make me?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:37 AM on October 19, 2007


Pollock paintings are a great bargain for painters because they're worth less than the canvas they're painted on.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:41 AM on October 19, 2007


But this case seems even more simple.

I've seen the movie. I didn't think that they made their case that it was a Pollock. The sense I got was that they'd bought a fairly good attempt at emulating him by a Sunday painter, and now they were desperate to prove that they'd actually hit the lottery and found a painting worth $10m or so.

Biro is as far from a real scientist as anyone I've ever seen, and much closer to the kind of 'hired guns' that you get who try to and make your case in court. I'm pretty sure that the art world has a whole pile of legitimate forensic experts whose expertise is in this area -- working in museums, universities, etc. -- so why go to this guy who seems to lack the kind of dispassionate analysis that I expect from a real scientist? In a report of this nature, you'd expect to see some features that were ambiguous or that somehow didn't support the thesis that the work is a Pollack, but with this guy, every single aspect of his analysis supported his claim that the work was a Pollack. And the fingerprint evidence just didn't seem that clear and conclusive to me. They certainly didn't seem clear enough to support a criminal conviction. In short, it seemed like he was stretching and engaging in lots of wishful thinking, while arguing that we should believe him because of *his* supposed status as an expert.

Then, reading the press release that KevinSkomsvold links to in the first comment, it appears that somebody has hired a real fingerprint expert to look at the evidence, and his report is much closer to what I'd expect from a genuine scientist. And guess what he says? Not only are the fingerprints not adequate to draw any meaningful conclusions, but it actually appears as though there has been some attempt to tamper with them in order to make them look closer to Pollock's fingerprints.

But to not let her in the door?

Not sure what you're saying here, Danila. Lots of experts listened to her theory, looked at the painting and dismissed it. Do you expect them to say she's right when she's wrong? If there is a consistent problem with art experts, it's actually their tendency to validate too many paintings rather than not being prepared to validate enough of them. There are major museums all over the world holding all manner of fake crap because some over-enthusiastic expert has given his seal of approval to a work that lacked adequate provenance.

If you're really interested in learning more about this subject though, I'd suggest that you give this movie a miss -- it's not that great, honestly -- and pick up a copy of Jonathan Harr's book, The Lost Painting k, which is the account of two grad students who face similar struggles against the art establishment when they discover a lost Caravaggio masterpiece. It's extremely readable, and will give you a much better insight into the various political/insider struggles that dominate this arena.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:01 AM on October 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Not only are the fingerprints not adequate ...

Most non-artworld people are not aware of it, but when an artist of "Jack the Dripper's" stature dies, his/her fingers are chopped off and frozen for just this type of situation. The finger vault is deep in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum. Next time you are there ask to see it. It is truly amazing.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:38 AM on October 19, 2007


Danila I'd guess that in this specific case at least part of the reluctance is due to the huge financial windfall the people claiming the painting is a Pollock would get if it were genuine. Forgeries are one of the facts of life in the art world, so the experts are naturally wary of such.

Also, as for experts expressing a general unwillingness to listen to potential ideas from non-experts, I'd say that its at least partially due to the fact that 99 times out of 100 the "brilliant" idea the layperson had is something that is a) well known not to work, and b) something the expert has heard from laypeople over and over again. Which isn't to say that sometimes a layperson won't come up with a nifty and workable idea, but it happens a lot less often than people want to think it does. Which would contribute to an attitude among the experts regarding any input from laypeople as being both worthless and time consuming.

This is, I would imagine, especially true in the medical field where, unfortunately, many laypeople seem to actively prefer crank bullshit (homeopathy anyone?) to actual tested and proven medical techniques. That goes doubly for anyone suffering from a condition which real medicine either can't treat, or can only treat with great difficulty, pain, and high chances of failure. The victim of such a condition wants, desperately, to find a way out; which is perfectly understandable and reasonable.

Of course the experts do sometimes ignore things of real value from laypersons, which is regrettable. But given the preposterously high signal to noise ratio input from the non-expert produces its understandable too.
posted by sotonohito at 4:50 AM on October 19, 2007


R. Mutt: They can't just take fingerprints? Ick.
posted by bassjump at 4:51 AM on October 19, 2007


when an artist of "Jack the Dripper's" stature dies, his/her fingers are chopped off and frozen for just this type of situation

They'd need more than his fingers in this case, R. Mutt. I quote:

"Horton openly admits that once it was clear that the painting's lack of provenance was preventing her from getting her foot in the door, she began inventing a history which concludes with Pollock signing the painting with his cock"
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:40 AM on October 19, 2007


Yet another "laypeople unwilliing to accept the opinions of the trained professionals" story.
This is getting to be uncomfortably common in this country.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:07 AM on October 19, 2007


Who the fuck is Jackson Pollack? If he painted it, it's probably only worth $5.

Have you ever stood in front of one and, you know, actually looked at it? As a postage stamp-sized reproduction it might be a discarded drop cloth, but at the scale they were painted, and standing right in front of one, they are amazingly active and engaging to experience.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:43 AM on October 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well StickyCarpet, Pollacks can be hard to find.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:56 AM on October 19, 2007


This so-called "forensic" expert didn't have access to Pollock's originals.
This is all pretty contrived.


You need to read all of Biro's updates. The expert had access to a paint can used by Jackson Pollock that had a fingerprint of Pollock's on it.
posted by jonp72 at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2007


I've been in the presence of two of his pieces. I can't tell you for sure if I was overwhelmed by "OMG, Jackson Pollock paintings!" or if these works were simply that engaging to me. Either way, they did affect me in some way.

I do find the contentiousness very fascinating as well as the comments in this thread. In all seriousness, I had no idea how polarizing this episode was. You can really see that in the comments in the posted article from my first link.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:59 AM on October 19, 2007


ok, ok ... Pollock was spelled Pollack in the original post, now corrected... hence the funniness of the "Pollack" only being worth $5. At least thats how I read it.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:04 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I hate dismissive elitism; therefore, I'm going to feel perfectly justified attacking experts on all fronts, even in subjects about which I know jack teabagging shit."

If you want to make a populist omelet, you're going to have to break a few top-of-their-field eggs (with a razor-sharp axe), if you get my drift.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:07 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The movie's worth seeing; the most interesting part to me was when one of the experts tries to assert that all known Pollock paintings have been accounted for. The film then cuts to Pollock's wife's lawyer/estate manager, who proceeds to talk about how he warned her that paintings were being given away willy-nilly and she was losing control over information about where the paintings were going. He says on camera that it's entirely possible that Pollock paintings are out there unaccounted for.

The pompous certainty of the "experts" in the face of opposing evidence that is at least plausible is a very powerful piece of evidence that they may be wrong on other "expert" points as well, and that Teri Horton may indeed be on to something.
posted by mediareport at 7:13 AM on October 19, 2007


She's being ridiculous, especially considering she's actually been offered substantial money in light of the complete lack of provenance. For some reason she seems obsessed with the idea that the art world is some sort of giant honey pot. She's free to sell it, but she won't get the price she wants, unless some photograph of Pollack with the painting shows up. There will always be doubt and the price discounts for this skepticism.
posted by geoff. at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2007


The expert had access to a paint can used by Jackson Pollock that had a fingerprint of Pollock's on it.

Read the other expert's report in the press release linked in the very first comment, jonp72. Also, it seems as though those high falutin' experts aren't the only people who have a vested interest in who has access to what.

"Frankie Brown, a longtime Pollock-style painter in California, requested to see the painting in person but was denied. He thinks it might be one of his knockoffs but can't tell without seeing it up close, if at all."

posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:39 AM on October 19, 2007


I've watched this drama unfold with a certain amount of interest, being an amateur "art expert" myself. The main issue I see is the fact that this lady wants absolutes in a field where such things simply don't exist. geoff. has it in this case. Lack of provenance will forever dog this painting, although its notoriety may give it a slight bump in value counter to its true value. Museums, especially are very cognizant of provenance, and will turn up their noses at even the slightest stink. There have been many high profile cases of museums getting burned, and no director wants to have their name in the next headline showing they've misspent the museum and board of trustees money on a worthless fake. that path leads only to the unemployment line and the punchline of a million bad comedians.

My own field of specialization, Southeastern US utilitarian pottery, has these same problems. The difference of several thousand dollars in price can be found simply in the addition or lack of a signature or stamp. I can make pretty good guesses in some cases due to things I can't even begin to describe, except as "feel." My "feel" may say a pot was made by Dave Drake, but without that all-important signature it's just a guess on my part, not something I or any cadre of professional experts can back up. There is no magic documentation that can ever prove or disprove this, it's always going to be a question.

She has the same problem: no signature, no photo, no receipt or other documentation. She has some semi-strong circumstantial evidence, and a good "feel" but she doesn't have anything concrete. Something could turn up, unlike my example, but this is a question of research, not a call vote to take to the public. To dismiss the question as elitism is the rotten logic that haunts political debates (ie. climate change, evolution v/s creationism, etc) and on that basis I view this woman as nothing more than a grandstanding hack who wants her share of cash and will defend herself with nothing more than the shrill cries of "Elitism and Ivory Towers!"
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:33 AM on October 19, 2007


I can't get the reader reviews to load on the NYT site, but Thomas Hoving responded :

In several hours of interviews with Harry Moses, producer of "Who the %$#@ Is Jackson Pollock," I stressed repeatedly two pieces of evidence that tip the scales heavily in favor of the Horton "Pollock" nor being by Jackson. The canvas is commercially sized, meaning that is has been so well prepared that little or no paint comes through. Pollock always sized his own canvases. The Horton "Pollock" was painted in acrylic. Pollock very, very rarely used acrylic -- and only briefly at the end of his career. This "Pollock" stylistically dates much earlier. Jackson Pollock was never fingerprinted. This means that the fundamental measuring stick in forensic research -- a proven Pollock fingerprint -- does not exist. The forensic scientist in the movie never addressed these key doubts. Thomas Hoving
- tomhoving

posted by louche mustachio at 8:49 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brings to mind this previous MeFi thread: 32 Jackson Pollock drip paintings discovered.
posted by ericb at 8:55 AM on October 19, 2007


Haven't seen the documentary, but did see the "60 Minutes" story. IMO, Horton ought to take the money [offered] and run. She could buy herself a particularly nice trailer with several million.
posted by Sassenach at 8:59 AM on October 19, 2007


BTW ericb, the exhibition (Pollock Matters) of those 32 *cough* Jackson Pollocks *cough* is open right now at The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, through Dec. 9th.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:26 AM on October 19, 2007


ok, ok ... Pollock was spelled Pollack in the original post, now corrected... hence the funniness of the "Pollack" only being worth $5. At least thats how I read it.
posted by R. Mutt


Yeah, it was misspelled twice. The mods have now corrected both, and removed KevinSkomsvold's first comment about that, which makes my comment look stupid instead of funny. I don't agree with that kind of moderation, but it's not worth going MeTa. Maybe the mods could leave this comment in.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:30 AM on October 19, 2007


they are amazingly active and engaging to experience.

I'll have to take your word for it StickyCarpet. I've never really understood the appeal of his stuff. I mean, I enjoy abstract, but his work seems to command accolades and prices that border on absurd.
posted by quin at 9:55 AM on October 19, 2007


From the NYT The Case of the Purloined, Unauthenticated Pollock another interesting story about a Pollock painting.
posted by otio at 10:28 AM on October 19, 2007


Yet another "laypeople unwilliing to accept the opinions of the trained professionals" story.

I read this as "tainted professionals". Maybe it's just the cynic in me but when there are professional reputations and boatloads of money on the line can you really trust anyone?
posted by MikeMc at 10:29 AM on October 19, 2007


pick up a copy of Jonathan Harr's book, The Lost Painting

Yes, do so. It's an enjoyable read.
posted by ericb at 10:50 AM on October 19, 2007


For the record, StickyCarpet, I love Jackson Pollock's work.
Active and engaging, indeed.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:11 PM on October 19, 2007



I read this as "tainted professionals". Maybe it's just the cynic in me but when there are professional reputations and boatloads of money on the line can you really trust anyone?


This was kinda my point. It probably isn't a Pollock, but even if it is we'll likely never know because too much is invested by a lot of people in it not being a Pollock.
posted by Justinian at 4:26 PM on October 19, 2007


Who do you root for in the movie? The spunky truck driving woman, automatically a sympathetic character, seems really attached to some idea that everyone is out to swindle her -- so stubbornly so that she refuses some really fantastic offers. Her son seemed pretty agreeable and calm in the face of a large inheritence being dismissed. Then again, we didn't see his reaction to the offer mentioned in the final comment.
The museum curator was fittingly elitist, sometimes sneeringly so, but I recognized he was plugged in to some truth of how things work in the art world. He was curator of the Met (or MOMA?) after all.
Even something about the way the forensic scientist gathered his evidence felt a little fishy to me. Does any one know if all of his lofty references ring true?
A fine story for sure.
posted by firemouth at 5:52 PM on October 19, 2007


All those techy graphics sure seem convincing, but this is one of those Blink/Gladwell things--Hoving is right, this is not a Pollock. In fact, I don't think it's a Pollock. So there, case closed.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 6:01 PM on October 19, 2007


This is a fascinating story, and a very good post. It has a unique resonance for me, as I was embroiled in an esoteric fingerprint controversy some time back. (Self link)
posted by Tube at 9:11 PM on October 19, 2007


Nice name, R. Mutt ;)

In a more general context of art history in this period, it is very apt!
posted by flippant at 1:28 AM on October 20, 2007


Have you ever stood in front of one and, you know, actually looked at it? As a postage stamp-sized reproduction it might be a discarded drop cloth, but at the scale they were painted, and standing right in front of one, they are amazingly active and engaging to experience.

Totally. Growing up in Canberra, my first exposure to abstract art as a wee tacker was to Blue Poles. As I was growing up, it became the painting I went and stared at whenever I needed to work something out - the mess is meditative. Truly awesome, sometimes overwhelmingly so.

Interesting doco, Kevin, thanks for the link!
posted by goo at 4:25 AM on October 20, 2007


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