A Thrift-Shop Jackson Pollock Masterpiece?
Teri Horton is a 74-year-old retired truck driver with an eighth grade education. She likes to gamble a bit, and now she thinks she has hit the jackpot. Not in a casino, but in the high-stakes world of modern art.
Teri isn't the kind of person who knows—or cares—much about art. But as CNN's Anderson Cooper reports, she has caused a stir in the upper reaches of the art world because of a painting she bought years ago, a painting she now believes is the work of the famous abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
If Teri's painting is by Pollock, it would likely be worth tens of millions of dollars. Not bad, considering she bought it as a gift for a friend and only paid $5 for it in a thrift shop in San Bernardino, Calif.
"I picked up the canvas and took it up to the lady in the thrift store," Teri remembers. "And I asked her what she wanted for it and she said, 'Oh, give me eight dollars. And I said, 'I love my friend, but I don't love her that much.' So she gave it to me for five. And that's why, how I bought, why I bought it."
Teri, who drove big rigs for 20 years, says she never liked the painting much, and only bought it as a joke. 60 Minutes met her in a New York warehouse where she now stores it.
"We were gonna get the darts and throw at it, but we never got around to it," Teri recalls, laughing. "We got to drinking too much beer and never went in the trailer and got the darts."
The painting was too big to fit through the door of her friend's trailer, so Teri put it in a yard sale, where an art teacher from a nearby college saw it. "He looked at it and he said 'I'm no expert,' he said, 'but this could be a Jackson Pollock.' And that's when I said 'Who the f--- is Jackson Pollock?'" she remembers.
Asked what he told her, Teri says, "He just started laughing. And he went on to tell me who he was."
Jackson Pollock was, and is, one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. His work was stunningly original and extremely influential; the Museum of Modern Art in New York has devoted a whole room to his paintings.
Pollock made those paintings by dripping, splattering and pouring paint on a canvas. He barely eked by, until those so-called "drip" paintings started to sell in the early 1950s. His reputation continued to grow after he died in 1956 in a drunk-driving accident, and so did the prices for those paintings.
One Pollock work, called "Number 5," recently sold for a record $140 million.
Teri may not know much about art, but after studying Pollock's works, and talking to people, she became convinced her painting was the real thing.
Teri thinks her painting is probably worth around $50 million. "And there are collectors that would love to have it, if they could get the art world to back it," she says.
Getting the art world to back it has been the problem for Teri; very few in the high brow world of art take her seriously.
"They tried to be kind about the names they were calling me, but I still figured out that they thought I was absolutely squirrelly," she says.
Teri the trucker was used to long hauls, and began stirring up so much controversy that a documentary was made about her struggle to win approval for her painting. The film, which has just been released on DVD, was made by Harry Moses, a former producer at 60 Minutes. It is called "Who the #$%& is Jackson Pollock?"
To get an idea of the art world's opinion of Teri's painting, the filmmakers showed it to Thomas Hoving, the legendary former director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"My instant impression, which I always write down, you know, the blink, the 100th of a second impression was neat-dash-compacted, which is not good. He wasn't neat. He wasn't compacted," Hoving said in the documentary. "It's pretty, it's superficial and frivolous. And I don't believe it's a Jackson Pollock. It has no appeal. It's dead on arrival. Dead on arrival."
They also showed it to Ben Heller, a collector who bought his first Pollock painting 50 years ago. "I'm looking for the cracks in the, in the paint, and the way the paint is applied. That is, layering of one color on top of another. Makes me uncomfortable. This stuff, it just doesn't, this doesn't look like a Pollock. Doesn't feel like a Pollock, doesn't sing like a Pollock, doesn't fail like a Pollock," Heller told the filmmakers.
"There is no way anybody can get up and look at that painting, or any Pollock for that matter, and be able, by visual examination and wait for this mystical feeling that they get that comes over them, to decide whether it is, or whether it is not authentic," Teri says. "They call it 'connoisseurship.'"
Asked what she calls it, Teri says, laughing, "B---s---."
"When you look at your painting, do you get a feeling?" Cooper asks.
"Yeah, I, you're damn right I do. You, when I look at the Pollock, I see dollar signs. That's all I see. I mean, you know, come on!" she replies.
Shut out by the connoisseurs, Teri turned to science. She found Paul Biro, a forensic art expert based in Montreal. Biro made his name as an art restorer. He now specializes in using scientific techniques to assess paintings.
Asked what he thought of Teri when he first met her, Biro says, "quite a character."
"The typical Jackson Pollock owner?" Cooper asks.
"Not quite," Biro says, laughing. "Not quite."
Biro studied Teri's canvas for several hours searching for clues. "The very first step for me was to analyze the painting. Take pigment samples. Look for forensic evidence," Biro explains.
"It sounds almost like you're describing a crime scene," Cooper remarks.
"Well, it's actually quite similar. I'm not look for the criminal; I'm looking for the artist who committed the painting, actually," Biro explains.
On the back of the canvas Biro discovered a fingerprint left in paint. "Once I turned the canvas around and I saw the fingerprint, I said 'Aha.' 'Cause suddenly I felt I have something to go on here," he recalls.
His next step was to find a Jackson Pollack fingerprint to compare it to. Pollock never served in the Army, however, and was never fingerprinted by police.
So, as the documentary shows, Biro, like any detective, went to the scene of the crime—in this case, the studio in East Hampton, Long Island, where Pollock made all those drip paintings.
The studio is now a museum, preserved as it was, right down to the open paint cans and brushes. On a can a blue paint, Biro found a fingerprint that matched the one on Teri's painting.
60 Minutes asked him to show the prints on his computer in his lab. "We're looking at six ridges in all. And we are looking at six characteristics that I have marked here, which are clear enough to be usable. You can see the lines intersecting, and forming bifurcations," Biro explains.
Superimposing one print on the other, Biro says that the prints correspond and are fully congruent.
Biro says that match proves Teri's painting came from Pollock's studio. Then, in the Tate Modern Museum in London, he found another print, on a known Pollock, that he says matched the other two.
Asked if in a court of law this would hold up, Biro says, "Yes, it would. I believe it would."
Biro checked his work with Andre Turcotte, a retired Canadian police sergeant who ran the Quebec Police fingerprint lab for more than a decade. Turcotte agreed the prints matched.
That's as far as comparisons have gone. Unless there's a potential buyer, Teri is unwilling to let other fingerprint experts examine Biro's findings. And she declined 60 Minutes' request to send the prints to an independent expert.
Biro's fingerprint match didn't change many minds in the art world, but it was good enough for at least one art collector, who offered Teri $2 million for the painting. She said no.
Why didn't she take it?
"I know what it's worth," she argues.
"There would have been some people say, 'Look, $2 million. You spend $5 on this painting. You're offered two million. Take the money and run,' some people would say," Cooper remarls.
"True," Teri says. "But it was not a fair offer. Be fair with me and I'll sell it."
"So you're not really sure, at this point, what you would take for this painting?" Cooper asks.
"No. I'm not gonna let 'em steal it from me," she says.
Ten years after buying it, Teri tried to get the art establishment to certify her painting. She went to the International Foundation for Art Research, or IFAR, a highly-regarded art organization. An IFAR team of Pollock experts studied the canvas and said it "is not by the hand of Jackson Pollock," although there were some "strong similarities to authentic works" by Pollock.
Teri hasn't been able to prove where the painting came from. All she has is a sales slip from Dot's Thrift Shop. Dot is dead, her shop was torn down, and no one knows where Dot got the painting from. There's no paper trail of ownership, what's known in the art world as a "provenance."
"Provenance is one clue that lets you track a work of art's history," explains Katy Siegel, a professor of art history at Hunter College in New York and a curator at the National Academy Museum.
"Without a provenance, you're without a provenance. And it doesn't necessarily mean that the work is a fake. But it means you have to look to other factors, and it makes it less easy," Siegel says.
What also makes authenticating Pollocks less easy is that, over the years, they have turned up in unusual places. A collector named Allan Stone bought one genuine Pollock that was found in an East Hampton, Long Island, garbage dump. A car dealer had used the backside of the canvas to make a sign.
"Everybody knew that Pollock dumped a lot of his unsuccessful things in, in the dump in, in East Hampton. You know, in those days, they weren't, they weren't worth anything really, you know?" Stone said in the documentary.
And, a few months ago, 32 potential Pollocks turned up in the attic of Herbert Matter, a friend and contemporary of the artist. Some leading experts say they're genuine.
But the art establishment shows no inclination to accept Teri's painting, even with the fingerprints.
"The art world doesn't understand fingerprints any more than it understands DNA. So, you're asking them to take what they don't understand. You say: 'Is there a match?' 'I don't, I don't know what a, I don't know what a match means.' They don't know what a match means," art lawyer Ron Spencer explained in the documentary.
"They don't understand fingerprint evidence, that's been around for over a hundred years? That if somebody steals his car or whatever, they're gonna find the thief by fingerprints on the door handle? He'll accept those fingerprints, right?" Teri says.
Katy Siegel, the art history professor, says some connoisseurs do accept forensic science. "This is a case, I think, where you can't set up some sort of dichotomy or opposition between science and art, or you know, nice working class truck driver versus snotty, fancy art historians," she says.
"That's certainly the way Teri Horton sees it," Cooper remarks. "She sort of views the art world as snobbish and elitist and they don't want to include her in on it."
"The art world is attached to, you know, wealth and, you know, rich people who own art," Siegel explains. "What you don't have is art historians who want to keep her out. I would love it if that was, turns out to be a Pollock. You know, that would be fantastic."
In all the years Teri has struggled over her painting, she has never seen Pollock's studio. So 60 Minutes took her out to Long Island, where Helen Harrison, the museum director, showed her the place where Pollock did most of his work, including—Teri believes—the painting she bought for $5.
"It almost makes you wanna cry," Teri says. "And I choked that back because I thought 'This is dumb.' So, then I walked into the room. And then I got angry."
"Not at Pollock. But how dare they tell me that it's not authentic?" Teri says. "They laugh at me and say 'You don't know what you're talking about.' And I say, well, one of these days, I just want to say 'Neener-neener-neener, I told you so.'"
Produced By Michael Rosenbaum
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