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Case Number 11304: Small Claims Court

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Who The #$&% is Jackson Pollock?

New Line // 2006 // 74 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 1st, 2007

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All Rise...

The last painting Appellate Judge James A. Stewart found in a thrift shop was a genuine Anonymous. He's keeping it in a locked warehouse, since it could be worth as much as ten bucks.

The Charge

"Is this a genuine, honest-to-God, no-doubt-about-it American masterpiece—possibly worth as much as fifty million dollars?"

The Case

"I saw this big canvas with paint all over it—no picture—it was ugly. There was nothing to it…To me, a painting has to have something you can look at." Teri Horton bought that thrift shop painting, negotiating the price down from $8 to $5. She was going to give it to a sick friend to cheer the woman up, only the woman didn't want it. When Horton finally put the thing up for sale at a garage sale, an art teacher suggested that it might be a genuine Jackson Pollock, worth a lot more than the eight bucks she paid for it.

Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? If you look at his paintings—a wild mix of lines and splashes—you might recognize him as the mad modern artist people joke about. His friends saw something more. "Here I saw a man who had both broken all the traditions of the past and unified them, who had gone beyond cubism, beyond Picasso and surrealism, beyond everything that had happened in art…his work expressed both action and contemplation," patron Alfonso Ossorio says on the National Gallery of Art site, which illustrates how Pollock's art progressed toward that abstraction throughout his short life.

It's possible that a genuine Jackson Pollock did wind up in a thrift shop, since he often gave works to friends and even threw out a few. There have been other Pollock finds over the years. But is this painting that trucker Teri Horton picked up on the road the genuine article? Who The #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? leans toward Horton and makes a decent case for her painting. Most of the evidence comes from forensic art expert Peter Paul Biro, who went to Pollock's studio to seek fingerprints, paint samples, and other traces linking Horton's painting to the artist. He's even found details about the materials Pollock used that might change perceptions of the artist's work.

The movie draws parallels between Horton and the famed artist. "Pollock was just as ornery. Even when broke, he wouldn't sell a painting for less than he thought it was worth," narrator Harry Moses says. By the time the movie was released, Horton had rejected offers of less than $9 million. Both had also suffered from depression and were capable of cussing a blue streak, though Horton's cussing is limited and mild here and Pollock's only blue streaks are on canvas.

Mainly, though, it portrays Horton's quest to authenticate and sell her painting as a battle between the common person and the art establishment. That establishment is represented most clearly by Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and author of Art For Dummies. "It contributes nothing to artistic civilization. It's a blip," Hoving says in dismissing the painting. Hoving's on-camera quotes portray him as a flip, haughty, know-nothing intellectual. Other art experts get similar treatment. It's hard to tell whether their tone is real or a by-product of editing.

The movie isn't "rollicking," as the DVD cover blurb promises. There's the occasional oddball quote, but mainly the movie—with the overemphasis on the battle—is what you'd expect from its executive producer, former 60 Minutes honcho Don Hewitt. The basic story of Horton finding a lost art treasure in a thrift shop is fascinating enough, as is Biro's work in authenticating it.

The look of the film, mostly shot in natural light, isn't bad. There's an interesting-looking scene early on, as Horton is silhouetted against the streets she drives while at the wheel of her truck, but most of it is standard. The soundtrack's good, but it's mostly talking heads. I noticed that there weren't any extras here. More information on Pollock or an update on Horton's quest to sell the painting might have been nice. Even a short look at the National Gallery site introduced me to Native American and Mexican influences in Pollock's work that made me give the artist a second look.

Who The #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? is undeniably interesting, since most people have visited a thrift or antique shop at some time or another and wondered about the value or genuineness of the stuff on display. Horton's an interesting lady, too. However, Hewitt and company are guilty of overplaying the us-versus-them hand. If you check it out, treat that aspect of the movie with a grain (or a truckload) of salt.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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