Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 15 11:07:19 MST 2006

(I would go see this fascinating looking film if it were playing someplace 
else than the IFC, which fired all of its union projectionists.)

NY Times, November 15, 2006
One Feisty Woman Takes On the Art World

"The art world is a 'through the looking glass' experience," declares Tod 
Volpe, a suave wheeler-dealer in Harry Moses' entertaining documentary "Who 
the $#%& is Jackson Pollock?" It is, he says, an environment of "illusory 
costumes and disguises by people who are masquerading."

"It's all about money," he adds. "It's a dog-eat-dog shark tank experience."

Mr. Volpe should know. He was a high-end art dealer who serviced the 
Hollywood elite until the bottom dropped out of the market and, strapped 
for cash, he sold paintings belonging to others. He ended up serving two 
years in prison for fraud. In the movie Mr. Volpe, back in business, is the 
prime mover for a group of beady-eyed investors working with Teri Horton, a 
former truck driver whose $5 purchase of an unsigned painting that may or 
may not be a Jackson Pollock could reap them a fortune.

Ms. Horton, a salty, outspoken woman who lives in a trailer and whose hobby 
is rooting through Dumpsters in search of buried treasures, has less 
delicate words to describe the world beyond the looking glass: "The whole 
art world is a fraud." And as she jumps through hoops trying to prove the 
authenticity of the canvas she purchased at the Dot Spot Thrift Shop in San 
Bernardino, Calif., now defunct, you are inclined to agree with her.

Ms. Horton, the farthest thing from an art-world aesthete, had never heard 
of Pollock when she purchased a canvas she describes as so ugly that she 
tried to give it away to a friend ("We were going to throw darts at it," 
she recalls), but it wouldn't fit through the door of her friend's trailer. 
At a garage sale a local art teacher spotted the painting and suggested it 
might be a Pollock. Her curiosity whetted, Ms. Horton began calling Los 
Angeles art dealers. Her son, Bill Page, joined the search, which became a 
decade-long quest for validation of her purchase.

As this smart, hard-bitten woman with an eighth-grade education pursues her 
quest, the documentary portrays the debate between connoisseurship and 
science as a culture war. Among the connoisseurs who insist that a refined 
eye is the ultimate judge of authenticity is Thomas Hoving, the former 
director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, exuding contempt 
and superciliousness. He is the most outspoken in his rejection. Shown the 
painting, he dismisses it as "pretty, superficial and frivolous."

Leading the scientific side is Peter Paul Biro , an equally self-satisfied 
forensic specialist from Canada who matches a fingerprint on the back of 
Ms. Horton's painting to fingerprints found on a Pollock painting in Berlin 
and in Pollock's former studio in East Hampton, N.Y. In a frivolous side 
trip, the film travels to England to consult John Myatt, one of the world's 
most notorious art forgers, who also believes the work is not a Pollock.

As Mr. Volpe puts it: "The painting is like Heathcliff in 'Wuthering 
Heights.' He didn't get his inheritance until he got a title." Now and 
then, you wonder if the movie itself might be a public-relations maneuver 
preparatory to an auction.

By the end of the film, you have the unpleasant sense that the snobs have 
drawn their wagons into a circle to keep out hicks like Ms. Horton and her 
experts, and that these smooth-talking guardians of an insular world that 
enriches itself through a kind of legal insider trading are deeply 
threatened by the intrusions of forensic science. The movie calls into 
question the determination of provenance, in which a history of a 
painting's ownership is used for certification.

Half buried in all this detective work is a sketchy biography of Ms. 
Horton, who grew up in the Ozarks without modern conveniences and at 18 
married a man who took the children when the marriage ended three years 
later. She is quite a character. She turned down a $2 million offer for the 
painting, no questions asked. And since the film was completed, she has 
also refused a $9 million offer from Saudi Arabia. Authenticating the work, 
she says, is not a matter of money, but of principle.

"Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock?" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly 
cautioned). It has scattered profanity.


Opens today in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Harry Moses; narrator/interviewer, Mr. Moses; 
director of photography, William Cassara; edited by Jay Freund; music by 
Terence Blanchard; produced by Steven Hewitt and Mr. Moses; released by 
Picturehouse. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third 
Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 74 minutes.



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