Is there anyone who thinks they can’t paint like Jackson Pollock? That’s exactly the problem with evaluating his work, because he’s one of the most copied painters of all time. And even the experts have trouble telling the difference. If you don’t yet know what I mean, go here to see what you can do….Now that you’ve had that fun, let’s get back to the point, which is that a painting that is a verifiable Pollock original fetches a lot more (as in $$$$$ more) than one by the most talented of emulators.
Many people in the art world consider Pollock a genius. I am not an expert, but his work reminds me of the spin art we used to do at camp. And if something I did there could command any amount at all, I’d be turning them out by the factory load. But let’s put aside my obvious bias and look at the way the art market works—because that is something complete removed from the making of art, and largely misunderstood by artists themselves. The following story is not about art, it is about collectables. We could be talking about Pokemon or baseball cards or stamps. We just happen to be talking about a painting.
Why is art valuable? What makes one painting sell for $5 and another for $25 million? That is exactly the question being asked by EVERYBODY in a really entertaining documentary, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? released last week on Amazon.com.
The movie follows the story of Teri Horton, a truck driver who lives in a trailer park, and self-confessed junkaholic, who bought a $5 painting at a thrift store as a gift for a friend. When the friend rejected it because it didn’t fit in her trailer, Horton planned to trash it when a passing art appraiser then told her was possibly an original Jackson Pollock. And that was the who Horton needed to hear.
Now the story takes a bizarre and entertaining slide through the world of art authentication, as a renowned expert tries to figure out how to prove whether it is or isn’t a Pollack. After all, anybody can splatter paint on a canvas on the floor. It doesn’t have paint strokes or an undercoating, or any sketching beneath the surface that would help to identify who was holding the paint can at the time…
So, this expert, a man named Peter Paul Biro skips over the traditional examination of the technique and examines the back of the canvas where he finds—gasp—a fingerprint! Now if only there were a documented Pollockprint on file to match it to—but there wouldn’t be enough story to make a movie if there was. Of course, Pollack never registered with selective services or had an official fingerprint taken in his lifetime.
Biro heads off to a cottage in the Hamptons where Pollack had his studio. There, this international art expert discovers a row of paint cans lining the wall as if held in perpetual display, and he selects the blue paint can from which to lift a fingerprint…and yes, it’s a match. But what if it was the fingerprint of some kid who was hired to do lawn work? Maybe he was cleaning up and saw the paint and the canvas on the floor, and wanted to know what it would feel like to throw some paint? Who would know? (I am proud to claim to be the first to posit that theory, which has never entered the discussion to date.) Biro announces that the paintcan print is sufficient evidence to authenticate the painting as an original Jackson Pollack, for which the current owner (the aforementioned woman living in a trailer park) has already received—and declined—an offer of $2 million.
Now the paint thickens, as other known experts in the evaluation of famous art weigh in with a series of contradictory opinions.
Ron Spencer points out that “the art world doesn’t understand fingerprints, anymore than they understand DNA.” And why should they? Shouldn’t the work be appreciated, and evaluated for exactly what it is, rather who held the brush, or even more remotely, who else has bought their paintings? The history of a painting—or any work of art, including sculpture, written works, performed works—is by its very nature, irrelevant. The immediacy of art—its connection to the person experiencing it at the moment—is its DNA, and the details of what happened to the actual canvas, statue, or manuscript do not in any way render it more or less significant.
This last point, however, seemed to be irrevocably lost to the people involved in the hunt for the hand that splattered this particular painting, which, by the way, looks remarkably similar to dozens of others tossed off by Pollock during the height of his demented career. What he meant by these paintings, few people can guess. That he was troubled, temperamental, and possibly disturbed, doesn’t seem to reduce their value one bit.
So, the forensic trail is followed to the wood floor of the Hampton house, where Biro matches some of the polymers on the floor of Pollack’s studio to those found on the painting.
This decides it for him. It is a Pollock. Apparently, his pronouncement falls on deaf ears as museum curators and authenticators refuse to accept his conclusion, leaving the painting, well, hanging, so to speak. (Biro, however, has made quite a career out of talking about Pollock).
Our fearless (and somewhat ruthless) truckdriver Teri, is not to be deterred. She wants to make a killing on this painting, because she thinks that is what IT “deserves.” Never mind that just a few months ago she left it out at a trash heap in a trailer park, now it deserves to be sold for millions, and she has volunteered to be the keeper of the cash.
The painting is now a potentially hot commodity, as long as they can prove its pedigree. The obstacle is pretty obvious. Pollack is by far one of the easiest artists to copy. As one of the experts points out, “there were plenty of guys, nobody’s really, who at the time painted just like Pollack.”
The story continues to evolve as art brokers jump in to try to sidestep the authentication issue by elevating the buzz on the painting, making it kind of like a reality star, famous for being famous. They put together a buyer’s history on paper that essentially represents behind-the-scenes partial investors in what would appear to be very much like a ponzi scheme, except it’s not….sorta. Anyway, the movie, at under $5 is very much worth the price, just what Horton paid for the painting. The jury is still very much out on what the painting is worth. Ms Horton has turned down $9 million so far and at last recount, was holding out for $25 million. Pollock would splatter in his grave—or maybe he would just laugh.
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