film... "Who the #$% is Jackson Pollock?"

Review of Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?

Maybe you saw a newspaper line from several months ago about a woman who purchased a drip painting at a thrift store and subsequently set out on a quest to prove its authenticity as an original Jackson Pollock. Well, the press about this story, which has been ongoing from many years now, was promoting the release of a film about Teri Horton and her potentially priceless drip painting. This documentary was recently recommended to me because it contained a great demonstration of art world hubris. Specifically, it was supposed to show the insular and deluded character of the art world in relation to the plight of the everyday person/art world outsider. Indeed, the protagonist of this bizarre story does widely represent the interests and values of the average individual in that she has absolutely no knowledge of modern art and even less respect for the complexity of the contemporary art world. Basically, she embodies the sort of commonplace derision that most people direct at art and the unpractical and useless 'nonsense' that operates in that world. Her vitriol is actually a huge step up from the even more popular attitude of complete dismissal, but it is the ire that she conjures up when facing those art world representatives that really makes this film even watchable.

While I don't wish to debate the entertainment value of Horton's rants about the art world (she is quite an endearing character with the ever-popular, odd combination of spunk and nastiness that we can only appreciate in the elderly), I would like to redress the balance a bit on this story. The quirky nature of the story actually cements interest in this documentary despite the really poor efforts of the filmmakers. At many points I felt I was watching a heart-warming interest story on the local news instead of an unbiased and objective effort at documentary film-making. While the lionization of Teri Horton and every other art world derider may draw mass appreciation for this film and its sappy fable, no one actually gets a fair sense of what's at stake in this story.

Despite the fact that it seems the filmmakers intentionally selected the most reproachable comments from the art world representatives sampled here, the film never manages to bring the same level of analysis to bear on the simple, yet crude protagonist. For all her hopes that the amazing find might yield even more amazing dividends, we can find no hint of interest or curiosity for the artist that may in fact generate her millions. Teri Horton, more than possessing a work of art, is indeed quite a piece of art herself, and not in the classically beautiful sense but more in the ironic Haim Steinbach or Jeff Koons sense. Consider, for instance, Horton's endgame should the whole project not work out for her: “Before I let them take advantage of me,” she said, smiling broadly, “I’ll burn that son of a bitch.” (from the NY Times 11.09.06 review). In this way, she offers an excellent starting point for viewing art as pure commodity, and to their shame, those who produced this documentary failed to ever draw attention to this glaring character flaw. If they had, their audience might begin to see that the same hollow pursuit of money and fame that Horton so easily vilifies the art world for is quite at work in herself. Unfortunately, the remarkable and more interesting story of how Horton attempts, however naively, to use this quest to right the wrongs in her own life remains undeveloped and unsatisfactorily explored. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the real victim of project is Jackson Pollock, a character that surely could have appreciated a story about second chances.

The work in question: