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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Human Self-Transformation, Part 2

"Everybody knows that fairy tales begin with the line, 'Once upon a time.' But a trucker's tale begins like this: 'You ain't gonna believe this shit!'"

Thus begins the real-life fairy tale of diminuative trucker, hard-drinkin' and hard-cussin' grandma, and all-around poet and personality Teri Horton, who discovers what she thinks is an original Jackson Pollock in a thrift store and begins a crusade to get the art world to acknowledge her find in the documentary, "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?"

(The British, love them, list the unabridged title, "Who the Fuck Is Jackson Pollock?")

As Teri's quest moves from honest persuasion (which is arrogantly dismissed by the infuriatingly conceited former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), to her attempts to create a provenance, or history, of the painting ("That's just shameless, Teri! Shameless!" gasps the director in obvious admiration as Teri giggles, quite pleased with her creativity - man, the story she comes up with is itself worth seeing this film for), to forensic science, you realize that these two worlds, Teri's hardscrabble, blue-collar, bohemian life, versus the pretentiousness and claustrophobia that has come to dominate the upper echelons of the art world, comprise a false dichotomy that is long overdue for a good smashing.

I believe Teri - I am convinced that she's got her hands on a genuine Pollock - but that's hardly the point of this film. She and Pollock are so alike in personality and in their private pain that it belies her supposed disdain for this "ugly" painting that she found. Despite what she says she saw something in that canvas that made her buy it and lug it around in her truck - and moreover, Teri is an artist herself, a dumpster-diver and bargain hunter, a storyteller and spontaneous comedian, a poet in the tradition of Andre Breton and Henry Miller, people who have really lived, whereas the art world, as with the writing world, has been invaded by cloistered, self-protective snobs.

But even so, it doesn't matter if the painting is a Pollock, for it's beautiful in its own right - as is Teri and her dream. Gauche, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed, and stubborn as a mule - sometimes to her own detriment - this beauty and her beast are on an adventure that raises questions about who owns art, who decides what art is, and who interprets art for whom. Art is supposed to be a process, after all; and after one sits through the tedious arguments by self-appointed "experts" harping on why all the Pollocks have been found, that there are no new Pollocks to be found, certainly not in (horrors!) thrift stories (oh goodness, no, the man simply shrugged off paintings, threw them in dumpsters, and handed them out like Halloween candy when his wife wasn't misplacing them!), and all of this filmed just weeks before a Pollock was found on the back of a sign advertising cars for sale, one is struck by how little these wheezebags embody the curiosity and passion that characterize an artist. It is Teri who is the masterpiece - a funny, eccentric, self-made, hard-boiled old character constantly growing and changing, and dancing in her dream of which those stuffed-shirt old art scholars maintain but a dim memory. Are they jealous of her? Afraid of her? Would it kill them to enter her world, as she has theirs, knock back a beer and let out an oath or two, and learn to live as, well, as artists do?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, art is any act of imagination I could not have come up with, not in a million years of trying.

There's a Pollock in the local gallery, Blue Poles, that is almost universally derided around here, largely on the grounds that it would seem to fail my own criteria - it looks like the kind of thing that any idiot could do. But I absolutely love that thing. It somehow captures the essence of something intangible, it has a sense of energy that pretty much anyone can see, and I have absolutely no idea how he did it. It's one of those paintings that illustrates that painting is not about showing what something looks like, but rather what something is. I could never do it.

...and there are people who are art. There are people who are built entirely out of stuff that no-one else seems to have enough of. There are whole lives that you can just gaze at with awe, for being something you could never have been, not in a million years.

These are people that justify my faith in humanity. They're the ones who dragged the rest of us out of our status-quo mud-scratching stupor, the ones who keep picking at us to become something more.

June 08, 2007 5:55 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, everyone is art (or at least the inspiration for art, as nature is). But some people are their own art, yeah. I fell in love with that Teri.

The most revealing part in this film for me was when the filmmaker interviewed the professional art forger - he calls it "pastiche" now - and shows him a photo of the alleged painting by Pollock. The forger just gazes at it in obvious longing: "That's lovely isn't it?" and when the filmmaker asks him if he could ever fake this, the forger looks crestfallen and says, "No."

Just like James Randi, a magician outing phony psychics, this guy's word is to be trusted, I think.

it looks like the kind of thing that any idiot could do

But it's not. That's the weird thing about Pollock. Nobody could throw paint the way that he could, with the force and flow that he could. That's why he is who he is (was).

June 08, 2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger breakerslion said...

I saw this documentary. I have no doubt that it is a Pollock. Testing the paint should tell enough of the story. Pollock was known to have dumped his failures. This picture probably wasn't his best work, but otherwise, how did his fingerprint get on the back? The only other explanation might be Pollock letting someone else imitate his style at his studio, in an attempt to show that what he did was more than just throw paint at a canvas, which it was. This might also be an early work, from when he was developing his technique. Who can say? I think it's genuine, and the critics are as full of crap as ever... and I don't even like those paintings! I prefer Sheeler, Dali, and Escher, but I don't say Pollock's work isn't art just because I don't like it.

June 08, 2007 3:12 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

J'adore Escher!

But you know, even if it isn't a Pollock, is the painting worthless? So much money is being thrown at art that I think its value is being skewed. What is the price for an idea?

John and I bought an art piece at a festival for a friend that was made out of chewed gum. ;-) Our friend was thrilled. It was perfect for him (and it went with the underside of his couch).

What did you think of the "provenance" that Teri invented for the painting? I laughed so hard that I scared my cats.

June 08, 2007 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I put this in my Netflix queue and watched it today. I especially liked the part where any scientific evidence makes no difference at all.

June 09, 2007 5:59 PM  

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