Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? Or The Irony of Class War in America

There's so much wrong with the selling of this story, it's difficult to know where to begin.

Perhaps, I should start with the obvious: America remains a country engaged in a civil war...a class war, that is. It's more intense at times than now, but certain events and stories still arise to drive the point home that lasting peace has yet to arrive. More than that though, as in perhaps all wars, the sanctimonious posturings on both sides are so ludicrous and self-serving, that in the end, neither army is morally "pure."

Take the story of 77-year-old
Teri Horton:

After retiring from truck driving in 1987, Teri Horton devoted much of her time to bargain hunting around the Los Angeles area. Sometimes the bargains were discovered on Salvation Army shelves and sometimes, she willingly admits, at the bottom of dumpsters.

Even the most stubborn deal scrounger probably would have been satisfied with the rate of return recently offered to her for a curiosity she snagged for $5 in a San Bernardino thrift shop in the early 1990s. A buyer, said to be from Saudi Arabia, was willing to pay $9 million for it, just under an 180 million percent increase on her original investment. Ms. Horton, a sandpaper-voiced woman with a hard-shell perm who lives in a mobile home in Costa Mesa and depends on her Social Security checks, turned him down without a second thought.

Ms. Horton's find is not exactly the kind that gets pulled from a steamer trunk on the "Antiques Roadshow." It is a dinner-table-size painting, crosshatched in the unmistakable drippy, streaky, swirly style that made Jackson Pollock one of the most famous artists of the last century. Ms. Horton had never heard of Pollock before buying the painting [see image above], but when an art teacher saw it and told her that it might be his work (and that it could fetch untold millions if it were), she launched herself on a single-minded post-retirement career --- enlisting, along the way, a forensic expert and a once-powerful art dealer --- to have her painting acknowledged as authentic by scholars and the art market.
Cute enough story, no? Worthy of attention. And sure enough it's getting some, in the form of a documentary that opens in New York next week (titled "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?"). But add a dash of "60 Minutes" style scandalmongering spin and the advice of a bitter criminal and you've apparently got just another caricature of the "evil" art world:

The movie, directed by Harry Moses, a veteran television documentarian, was produced by him; Don Hewitt, the creator and former executive producer of "60 Minutes"; and his son, Steven Hewitt, a former top executive at Showtime. Mr. Moses said he first became aware of Ms. Horton's quest when he was approached by Tod Volpe, a high-flying art dealer who fell to earth, and landed himself in prison, in the late 1990s for defrauding several of his celebrity clients, including Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.


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," Mr. Moses said. "It's a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education."
Now I get the notion that the art world is mysterious and glamorous and as such is ideal for folks to project all kinds of dark fantasies onto, and according to this article, the filmmakers have some predictably snobbish quotes from some predictably snobbish authorities ("Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [examined] the painting in somewhat dramatic fashion, tilting his head and almost touching his nose to the canvas before pronouncing it 'dead on arrival.'"], but the end result of framing this story this way is that they're helped turn Ms. Horton into a sort of of Don Quixote, chasing after art world windmills of oppression that have led her to an absolutely insane conclusion:

Ms. Horton was clearly having fun in her now-enlarged role as self-appointed scourge of high-dollar high culture, which she calls "the art-world conglomerate conspiracy." She said, though, that she remained completely confident that she would see herself vindicated, and that she would sell her painting at her price --- no less than $50 million --- within her lifetime.

And if that does not happen?

She clicked a long, lacquered fingernail on the tabletop.

"Before I let them take advantage of me," she said, smiling broadly, "I'll burn that son of a bitch."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending the Hovings of the art world. They're so busy trying to convince themselves that they are important, they've lost sight of the fact that it's their responsibility to try to convince society-at-large that art is important, and in doing so perpetuate the mistrust the public has of the "experts." (He's such a jerk at times, Hoving: "Mr. Hoving says that Ms. Horton has no right to be bitter about her treatment by the art world and adds sternly, when told that she would vehemently disagree: 'She knows nothing. I'm an expert. She' not.'")

But to conclude that her shabby treatment by some art world experts entitles her to burn the painting, whether it's a Pollock or not, suggests an equal degree of self-importance on Ms. Horton's part. Which is the great irony of the class war in America: it creates bull-headed, arrogant jerks on both sides.

I've lived in this country long enough now to know that most folks, even rich ones, will buy into the spin here, but look no further than Moses's own words to find the underhanded manipulation here: "It's a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education." [emphasis mine]. He didn't have to present her that way. She's a woman with a painting that very well might be a Jackson Pollock (or at the very least a good fake). To focus on her education in presenting her to the public, Moses is intentionally playing up the class-war angle. She might have an art historically important work of art...why on earth is her education significant in getting it appraised? Hoving didn't re-inact his snobbish assessment after Horton approached him on her own. It wasn't merely caught on candid camera. Hoving performed, as he could be counted on doing, with cameras running and more importantly, context already set. In other words, from what I know having read this article, this film seems to be a fictionalizing ambush, being presented as documentary...more guilty perhaps of perpetuating the class war than anything Hoving might have done left to his own devices.


Anonymous Oriane said...

Interesting timing. There is also a documentary being made about the authentication issues around that stash of maybe Pollocks found in someone's attic, but someone who knew Pollock early on. I forget the names involved, but this case involves all art world people, so probably has none of these class issues.

11/09/2006 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

She should have taken the $9 million, doesn't look like a Pollock to me.

11/09/2006 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd have taken the 9 mil.

11/09/2006 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

One spin on all this is that something about this painting done in Pollock's style appealed to this woman with no background in art. This is proof that art doesn't have to be puppy and kitten portraits to appeal to a broad range of viewers. This spin would demonstrate that art is not elitist. But of course this spin does not fit into the stereotypes journalists have of the art world.

11/09/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

According to the story I don't think she does like it--right?
And isn't the painting horizontal Ed?
(but I have only had six years of college...)

11/09/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And isn't the painting horizontal Ed?

You got me...that's the orientation they presented it as having on the New York Times.

11/09/2006 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

okay, well it's horizontal in the movie poster.
On a lighter note try this!
(blank screen until you move)

11/09/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Holly said...

Alex Matter is trying to authenticate some Pollocks, found in a storage facility of his late parents, Mercedes and Herbert Matter. Last I heard they had decided they were NOT Pollocks.

11/09/2006 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

A friend of mine that works at New Line (who's releasing this film)told me about it Sunday at volleyball. I don't know any more about the film than he told me, but apparently the woman bought the painting as a gag gift for a friend, thinking it was the ugliest thing she could find, and the friend returned it to her. He also said that there's been some sort of followup evidence (fingerprints?) that confirms the painting is a Pollock.

As far as the film being a fictionalized ambush, come on. If Hoving is so clueless that he's willing to say arrogant condescending things on camera, you can't blame the context that's been set. He's speaking for himself. Hasn't he ever seen a movie camera or a microphone before?

11/09/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger The Artist Extraordinaire said...

The gag gift story is true. They did a thing on her on TLC or Discovery channel. It was that show that talks about urban legends, NOT Mythbusters, though. This show is documentary style and takes a legend like the hippy baking a baby in the oven while stoned and follows the roots and evolution of the story and scours newspapers and police reports. They did the story of “the lady who found a priceless masterpiece at a garage sale.” They had this lady on as the truth to the urban legend.

I think the class-clash and the Geraldo angle are the things that greenlighted the picture. It is also the age-old debate of “my kid could do that.” And the smoke screen or straw man of hold up the art world as the evils of the rich and educated. Really it is the business dealings of the Enrons and the tax cuts for the rich that are evil. Not selling a painting people think is ugly.

If you want to look at the most unethical documentary of all time, watch the DVD +extras of Capturing the Friedmans, there is so much wrong with that one.

11/09/2006 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what was so unethical about the friedmans? you mean that they never determined whether they abused the kids or not?

11/09/2006 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

My sister, who is not an official painter, who just do stuff for fun, once did some sort of cute decorative painting to put in her living room, but in the process had spilled painting over a wood board that she used to mix her colors.

I asked her if she could give me that wood board, and so ever since I hang it on my wall once in a while.

This to say that though I acknowledge Pollock for inventing something, I find truly stupid everyone that puts a value on a Pollock simply because it has its signature. For me he has invented a way of making and looking at art,
and everyone using the same process as he did is likely to end up with an interesting result, only that Pollock was much more conscupicious about his choice of paint and colors, and also knew how to abstain himself or at times used economy to let his painting breathe, while most people are likely to not know when to stop and what colors to mix.

But I woud never let myself fooled by someeone trying to tell me that a Pollock is as constructed as a Caravaggio. That is clearly not the point of his process.

So yes, art specialists and auctioners are vain. They only care about a signature. I'm interested by aesthetics in general. I only ever credit artists when they have helped launch a new quest among these aesthetics.

It is easier to come to make a good fake Pollock than a good fake Caravaggio, but that is not the point. It's also very easy to make a child and they are the most wonderful things.

The painting above is rough and disturbing and you can see the person was trying too much (or maybe not enough? with this type of work there is always a way to reach harmony if you just keep splashing and hiding). There is a lot of dissonance at work that will indeed make it seems crappier that another attempt. It's kind of imbalanced too, like I wonder if afterall that painting wasn't meant to be hanged in diagonal? It makes me tilt and it's uncomforting. The mixture of yellow, rust and white is somewhat too aggressive for my taste.

But it's not complete utter bullshit either. One could "softenize" this through photoshop and have it re-printed. You could come up with something.
Put vertical there is even a figure that deleniates itself.

For a non-Pollock the artist surely tried. What was the argument against it? I'd like to hear how te expert describes it.
The great thing about Pollock is that you can copy him without ending with the same result (wrether you're accidental or not, but that is the thing with Pollock is that you can usually apprehend that it's not all accidental).


Cedric Caspesyan

11/09/2006 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>I find truly stupid everyone >>>that puts a value on a Pollock >>>>simply because it has its signature

I meant that people will buy a Pollock wrether it's good or not and only care about the signature.

In fact auctioners HAVE to put a value on these things and they're not stupid for doing that. So I talked too fast once again.

But I'm just saying that this whole
totalvaluePollock VS nonvaluebullshit issue is sort of hypocrite and irrespectful of the processes at work. Pollock may have said himself that no one could replicate him, but that's easy to say when two abstract paintings done with the same process are likely to be more different than similar if you start calculating and gauging every millimiter-square of paint.

I think that if you take the same choice of paint colors than Pollock for a work, and see him do in a film and try to imitate a similar gestural and a similar time in movement and a similar quantity of paint in each drops, you are more likely to reach doing a very good Pollock (that still won't be a Pollock), than trying to draw a Caravaggio. So yes people are entitled to laugh and think they can just "do it at home". I encourage them to, it's a good lesson in aesthetics.

They might just not be able to grasp the intricate beauty of abstraction and of the process itself, and how it is still hard work and calculation to come to make an Abex that looks good.
Not everyone is a good calligraphist, not everyone writes the same way, that can also be informative in the final work.

But you know a Sol Lewitt is even easier to replicate. Pollock is only halfway through (and as I said, cloning a work of him is nearly impossible, unless you print it): you can merely borrow a process, but that process being central to his work, I think we should be putting value unto the process at times and stop making it sound like it's exclusively about objects and signature.

If that girl's painting is entirely crap than Pollock is entirely crap, let's just be honest here. This type of work simply can't be reduced to final products.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/09/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like all wars, someone starts them--usually out of some third-party interest.

Hasn't he ever seen a movie camera or a microphone before?

Most microphones are fake, so why would Hoving think for a moment that he was in the presence of a real one.

11/09/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Oh come on...that painting is so nearly that blue Picasso with the nude woman sitting.

It's not bs, let's be fair. Just very aggressive.

Or maybe horizontal it becomes bs, but I am obsessed by the reclining nude that I see in it, however vain it is from me to try and dig these figures.

I didn't even seek them to tell the truth, they just popped up unto me at this very instant and I had to comment. There is like 2 paintings in that work, the background and some drawing above it. I mean the brighter shades definitely seemed to have been poored last, so that's intentional.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/09/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

When Ed first posted the pic this morning, I was curious because my first instinct was that it is not a Pollock. I took a look at this pic vs. about 100 jpegs I have of other Pollocks. It stands out like a sore thumb.

I wouldn't say it has anything to do with the color which seems in the range of colors that Pollock used. What appears 'off' to me is that it looks self conscious, like a painting trying to be a Pollock rather than just a painting.

It feels indecisive and arbitrary, two things which Pollock was not.

11/09/2006 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Has anybody thought to question how this painting ended up in a thrift store to begin with? Back in October, somebody dropped a Frank Benson watercolor off at a Goodwill in Portland OR. The piece was put on their website and consequently fetched a final selling price of about $160K. The point being that somebody didn't think it was much to look at.

11/09/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Most microphones are fake, so why would Hoving think for a moment that he was in the presence of a real one.

That's pretty funny :)

I guess if someone with a movie or video camera showed up in my office for an interview, I'd err on the side of assuming they had a real microphone.

11/09/2006 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

"Taking the drip, and Making it Mine..."


11/09/2006 09:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>It feels indecisive and >>>arbitrary, two things which >>>Pollock was not.

Hmm.. But Pollock was dancing between decision and arbitrary.

Let's say he was economic and merely never thrashed himself out on the canvas like this one above seems to do (why I saw it as trying too much).

But is being dissonant or automatic really an obstacle to the defense of great abstraction?
Is this guy really doing a fake bad Pollock or is he using the same technique to bring something else? Why wouldn't it be possible to categorize the types of works that you can come up with by using Pollock's method?

If Pollocks was so calculated than surely you can come up with another proposition that is as likely worth investigating?

Maybe this guy or girl wasn't even trying to imitate Pollock. Riopelle here in Canada certainly wasn't.

And as Susan mentioned maybe the artist himself thought it was crap and throw it in the garbage, but it's not that crappy enough that I wouldn't be curious to see it in person. It attempted something, perhaps to copy Pollock, but in the end it gave something different and I'm curious about that. In the way that I'd be curious to see the Pollock that each and everyone of readers here would do. It's like watching a portrait.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/09/2006 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


The caveat I didn’t mention in my previous comment is that I would agree that it is always possible the painting could be a ‘throwaway’. Any painter has situations like that but I don’t think it is the case. I think the painting was made intentionally in the Pollock style for one reason or another which we will never know.

I didn’t quite mean ‘arbitrary’ in the way you understood. Most paintings have their arbitrary moments including Pollock, it is part of the process. I recently saw an exhibition of Pollock’s works on paper, he had incredible control of the medium and a keen awareness of what he was doing when he used the drip technique.

I think another factor which comes into play is Pollock’s earlier paintings, in particular the paintings from the 40’s that lead up to the drip paintings. These have a particular kind of mark making which is symbolic and linear almost like graffiti. I bring these two points up because I think one could consider the earlier works as practice, in that his kind of marking becomes a reservoir for the subconscious and conscious decisions which occurred later when he was making the drip paintings.

Getting back to the ‘Horton Pollock’
The space in it feels wrong.
It’s too dense and closed up. It’s not typical of the kind of painting space Pollock used, which tended to be more open. Even in Pollock’s denser paintings one color can be seen as the ‘ground’ in the figure ground relationship. The HP is uniformly busy except at the edges.

The ‘indecisive’ and ‘arbitrary’ issues concern the way the actual drips are applied. It’s the ‘more is better’ approach, especially in the first layers where the paint is an arbitrary mess of clotted paint. It has no sense of structure and appears to be there just to provide a suitable drippy background.

In the actual Pollocks, it appears to me that he might have started the very first layer somewhat arbitrarily but the kind of drawing (in air) he uses relates back to his earlier paintings and is a way for him to get into the painting by generating something he can respond to. In the HP, it is clear to me at least, that there isn’t any kind of meaningful drawing which could be viewed in relationship to Pollocks earlier paintings.

By the time Pollock got to the top layer of any of his paintings, he knew what he wanted. If the painting wouldn’t resolve easily, it was resolved in the top layer. She-Wolf at MOMA was finished with two final layers, painted separately because the colors aren’t mixed together. One layer is the white drawing and the top layer is the greenish gray which was painted over everything else, last after all the other paint had dried.

By contrast the final layers in the HP are tentative, don’t particularly resolve anything in the painting and arbitrary in their marking. The white (or silver) ‘loops’ look like they are a solution to the question, "ok, I need a longer line, how do I do that?" The lines start in the painted area and finish in the painted area which is atypical of Pollock’s paintings.

All of my comments are based on the jpeg and worth about a pixel.

11/10/2006 01:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

What I see in this painting is a left (or upper) section that is more black-grey-white, while the right part has the yellow-rust added which sort of follow with the super-impose drawing.

Almost like I could divise the
painting in half just right of the grey line (the one that in my fantasy of a reclining nude would delimitate the sofa).

The two white lines are forming a curious helix whixh to me sort of scream above the rest (in my reclining odalisk fantasy they also link the body to the mind). I feel like one could finish that painting, insist on some lines to reaffirm their position against the very irritating background.
I see someone who is trying to mix Bacon with Pollock, exactly because
of the fact te drawing seems controlled. Everything blends too much for it to work out, but it's not entirely uninteresting. It looks unfinished. Could it be a Riopelle? That man used to like hiding actual figures in his paint, and to control it from within.

Lol, I luv its mystery.
We will never know.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/10/2006 03:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

hlowe said...

okay, well it's horizontal in the movie poster.
On a lighter note try this!
(blank screen until you move)

The is an appalling case of the "artist" Miltos Manetas stealing someone else's work. You can read about it at: Link and Link

11/10/2006 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

At the Pollock/Krasner house in Springs, a small, sort of Expressionistic painting hangs over the fireplace. If you were told it was by a famous painter and had to guess who, you might say it was Gaugin on a bad day. But it's a Pollock -- one of his earlier works.

The docent at the site told me an interesting story about it:

Apparently, Pollock owed money to someone in East Hampton (a lawyer or accountant -- I forget the details) and offered, in exchange, any picture in his studio. His "creditor" didn't like the drip paintings and chose the tiniest, most inoffensive picture possible.

Now the painting has been regifted to the Pollock/Krasner house. I guess no one was offering 9 million for it, even with authentication.

11/10/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger hlowe said...

"The is an appalling case of the 'artist' Miltos Manetas stealing someone else's work."

Ethan, I surely would have given credit to the originator had I known---glad you did.

I guess that guy Manetas was pretty good at marketing the idea because most people know it by the second address. It's just a little exercise anyway. No one is making money off it.

11/10/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said... is joke but a great joke !

I mean, they may as well credit the originators of the program but they should also keep it as it is.


11/10/2006 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

I dunno... what that Manetas guy did really get under my skin. I've taken a couple of stabs at commenting on why--but I can't seem to write about it without taking on a shrill tone :) So, I'll just leave it be.


11/10/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger hlowe said...

I hadn't looked at the second link and now understand why it makes you angry.
By the way, YOUR own work looks very interesting.

11/11/2006 01:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the owner of the Pollock painting being discussed here.
I went around the art circle agenda
of phoney art experts who authenticate by viewing a painting until they get some mystical feeling that determines the works authenticity. I aquired the authentication of the Pollock painting I bought in a thrift store as a joke for a friend, by forensic science in evidence of fingerprint identification. All evidence was recovered from Pollock's studio where he created his work. A print discovered on a paint can that Pollock used, matched a print on the verso of the pollock work I own. Paint samples from the studio floor match the painting, recently another print was recovered from a Pollock painting at the Tate Museum, London that matches also.
A documentary film was produced by Harry Moses, titled Who the f--- is Jackson Pollock, that is what I said when I was told it could be the work of Pollock, I had never heard of the artist. The Premiere
was Nov.8,2006 it opens to the public Nov. 15, 2006 in New York.
If your interested you can google
teri's find and it will take you to the authenticity report. Those who formed an opinion that it was not a Pollock by looking at a photo, on this site...are typical
of the phoney art experts who function in the cloistured art conglomerate power that dictate if your submission of an art piece
gets authentication or rejection, at their whim.My 15 year battle has been to introduce scientific
authentication into the art entity
so you and your's can obtain a justified authentication. I know what this painting is worth and I turned down the $9mil you would have taken, based on the principle
of truth.
While I'm here, your discussion about Richard Taylor and his fractal scam, is just that...he works under the direction of Eugene Thaw to discredit any Pollock's that come on the market, such as the Matters find....he was never allowed access to my painting. Can I verify his fractals are a hoax, the forensic expert who authenticated my painting, can prove it beyond a doubt.I don't recall who suggested that Taylor needed further investigation, was correct. Taylor is no more a professor than i am.
That's exactly why Taylor has gotten away with his fractal B-- s---, no one in the media has researched Taylor...that is soon coming to a screeching halt.
Best to all,
Teri Horton, owner of the only Pollock work to be authenticated since his death in 1956. 325 submission for authentication were all rejected.

11/12/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Keep sticking it to 'em, Teri. My very limited impression from the photo is it's likely a genuine Pollock. Regardless, the highbrow crap is exactly that. Thankfully there are many genuine humans in the art universe as well, shame that more of them couldn't have been there for you. Rock onward -

11/12/2006 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Well I'm no phoney expert, just
an art fanatic, and I would totally welcome that the piece be a Pollock. It would still look like a weird Pollock, or whatever, it doesn't constitute a synthesis of the Pollocks I've seen.

But if it's exhibited in a museum I'll go see it! You can't really feel it from a small Jpeg. But I think there is some work in it, I don't even need to know if it's a Pollock or not to judge that.

What a rough way to come in contact with contemporary arts, Teri !!?

I mean, both the people and the painting, which is really raw.

From then on the road should be easier.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/12/2006 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Brenda said...

Jackson Pollock, like it or hate it, either way, this would fund someone's retirement.

11/15/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

What's "retirement"?

11/15/2006 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous kenb said...

Thomas Hoving added his "reader review" to the NYT's review here.

11/16/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger tommy said...

The painting is almost identical to Pollock's no.5 which just sold for 140 million. Anyone who says it doesn't look like Pollock paintings they have seen must have forgotten about no.5.

5/13/2007 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the painting is supposed to be horizontal, is the left edge the top or the bottom?

10/10/2007 09:47:00 PM  

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