21 June 2011 | Johann_Cat
An Argument for Hard-headedness Above History and Aesthetics
I have an extended meditation here, but the bottom line is this: the film is scientifically dumb and manipulative. The critic Hoving offers real kickers to the myth of that this junk-shop painting (owned by Ms. Horton) was made by Pollock. The director chose to repress (or was too dull to uncover) these simple, myth-busting facts. Hoving relates these in a letter in ArtNews magazine: 1) that the Horton found-in-a-junk-shop item was painted on a stock, commercially framed-and-sized canvas. Pollock never used such, but used odd-ball, idiosyncratically sized canvases; and 2) the paints in the Horton image are all acrylics (acrylics were scarcely available to Pollock, and though he used a few, he is on record as _never_ making an entire painting of _nothing but_ acrylics!).
--- This film's subject, an elderly woman who begins to be convinced she found an enormous Jackson Pollock painting at a junk shop, is sometimes an amusing character; she has a compelling, hard scrabble background and can spin a fanciful yarn. But I can find such a person in most any saloon. Her stubbornness is not an unusual human trait, but the filmmaker is in awe of it, and seems to follow it as a potential guide to a painting's authenticity. But stubbornness is not equal in value to reasoned principles. The film makes occasional offers of an unbiased assessment as to whether this painting is a real Pollock or not. But its main argument remains something like "hard-headed wishing can make it so"--this shtick isn't non-conformist, though the filmmaker tries to sell it that way. Regardless of anybody's politics, I think this documentary curiously reflects the G. W. Bush era of feelings-over-reason in which it was made.
The film's most dubious character is not Volpe, the ex-con (and admitted con-man) art dealer hired by Ms. Horton to sell her painting, but the Montreal painting analyst Biro, who claims that a smudged, partial fingerprint on the rear of the Horton canvas is a certain match to a smudge on a paint can handled by Pollock. Common sense and actual criminal science forensic fingerprint analysts (e.g., see the Fine Arts Registry website and Tom Hanley's analysis) claim that these prints are too compromised and small to be of scientific use. (Biro also seems to have placed a rubber stamp of _the same print on the Horton_ onto the back of another unsigned "possible" Pollock--who could find that compelling?)
The film is bewilderingly short on educated, detailed responses comparing line and color in the Horton painting and actual Pollocks. This made the film seem like it had something to hide behind Biro's carny-man bluster about fingerprints. Here's an example of the kind of analysis I'd like more of: based on images of the Horton painting in the film, I judge that it is that this is a fake (not a counterfeit, but an amused homage) Pollock made in the 1970s. I offer this guess because of the colors and their proximity in the painting. The rest of my impression is based on the density of the design and the monotony of the curved shapes in the painting. Pollock often used colors (colors that strike on me as "50s colors") that were dark, intense, metallic or earthy. Rarely does he put colors like bright orange, turquoise, and red hard against each other. Admittedly he does use some bright colors in "Number 5," but there the yellow and red are spread far apart and not densely laced on top of each other. The amounts of turquoise and orange in the Horton painting seem especially un-Pollock like, and the swirls seem too uninterrupted, repetitious, and densely layered. The stuffy, old-school curator (Thomas Hoving), brought in early in the film, tosses off the observation that the Horton painting is too compact and busy to be a Pollock--and that remains one of the few painting-literate analyses in the whole #$&%*(^ movie.
Most Pollocks give the viewer a sense of receding spaces beyond the surface that the Horton painting lacks. Pollock paintings also tend to have more straight lines made by sharp, whip-like gestures of the painter's arm and hand and have areas that seem more calligraphic than just randomly swirled as the Horton painting does. If one is familiar with Pollock's pre-spatter style, which often involved calligraphic and/or vaguely figural designs, sometimes Picasso-esque, one can see more abstract but still distinct versions of such pre-spatter era designs within the Pollock spatter paintings of the late 40s and 1950s. The Horton painting seems an aggressive, monotonous collection of swirls. This is admittedly what many people claim all Pollock paintings look like. But the devil is in the details: I have yet to see a certified Pollock that looks like the Horton painting.