The film, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? is the story of a woman who is trying to convince a wall of art moguls, albeit a small wall, that she owns an original Jackson Pollock. The woman, Teri Horton, picked up the painting at a tag sale for five dollars. After some advice given to her from an art-teacher friend, Horton began to believe it was an original Pollock.
Investigating in thrift store bookshelves and internet searches, Horton stumbles upon a book written by former art dealer/criminal Todd Volpe, originally from Hollywood. Volpe, who was sent to prison for two years after pocketing money from celebrities like Jack Nicholson, introduces Teri Horton into the art world. She becomes inspired by the story, and decides to ask Volpe for his assistance, to see what efforts he can make to sell it. By this point, she has already spent fifteen years trying to get the painting recognized as a true Pollock.
From the argument in the film, it seems someone from Teri’s “way of life”, shouldn’t and doesn’t know anything about what might constitute a real Jackson Pollock.
Questions are raised about the credibility of Horton’s belief and as someone who doesn’t rub shoulders in the art world, or have a valid education; certainly not one about art, about her place in the class structure is an unsettling breeze throughout the film. Teri was offered $9 million for the painting, and declined, saying she knows what the worth of the painting is, and won’t settle for any less.
Interestingly enough, the three paintings that have been under examination at the Strauss Center for Conservation at Harvard University, whose owner attributes to Jackson Pollock, have caused quite a bit of buzz in the recent stretch of art talk. Talking with the Senior Conservation Scientist of the team, Narayan Khandekar, this undertaking was the sort of thing his team does daily. Part of the daily jobs that come in for folks like Khandekar to take a look at and give their professional, scientific opinion.
Alex Matter, the owner of these paintings and the son of Herbert and Mercedes Matter, who were purportedly a close friends of Jackson Pollock’s and artists themselves. Matter “found” 32 paintings wrapped up and stored away in a storage area in Long Island, belonging to his father. Matter found them five years ago, and had them restored.
When Harvard asked for the unrestored paintings, they were only given paintings that had in fact been restored. As varnishes and other materials used in conservation can corrupt a pigment purity, the team at Harvard was still able to take multiple samples of a very much abused work (the tale goes, a cat had “attacked” one painting given to Harvard—one of three Harvard looked at) and submit their findings to the public at the end of January after two years of investigation.
A constant contrast between the film, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? and the “Matter Pollock’s” is where do connoisseurship, pure science, art history, and finance meet? Matter has stated that the Harvard findings are “about connoisseurship and not science” – which is really wild, since he is the one who voluntarily gave them to Harvard to investigate (the pigment samples tested were found to be in paints manufactured after Pollock's death in 1956). In my brief talk with Khandekar, I was told there is an article by Steven Litt of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which discusses an independent forensic sceintist named James Martin, who was also given paintings from Matter. Matter will not allow Martin to release his findings.
There is a lot more to this discussion, and we will get to view the paintings in question when they are exhibited at Boston College in the fall for the, “Pollock Matters” show. The show will be exploring some kind of relationship Herbert Matter had with Pollock, and will show about 25 works that Alex Matter uncovered from storage in 2002.
Volpe says, "Everyone is saying, this is not a Pollock. I say prove to me it isn't."
While Khandekar says, referring to his teams's discoveries about the pigments' dating, "We can't tell you if they are Pollock's, but we can tell you they are not."
Read more about this story in Issue #57
Still image courtesy of Picturehouse.