Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?

By Joseph Golfen

It sounds like every thrift store shopper’s dream. Teri Horton, a 75-year-old former long-haul trucker, bought a painting for a friend as a gag in a California thrift store, only to learn that it could be a lost masterpiece by Jackson Pollock worth more than $50,000,000. The original price tag: $5.

“I saw it at the shop and I asked how much they wanted for it. They told me eight dollars,” says Horton. “I told them, ‘I love my friend, but I don’t love her that much. I’ll give you five.’”

When the painting wouldn’t fit into her friend’s mobile home, Horton brought it back to hers and eventually tried to sell it at a yard sale. When a local art teacher remarked that the painting could be a Pollock, Horton responded with what would later become the title of a documentary about her find: “Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollock?”

The Phoenix Art Museum will be showing Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock on Tuesday as part of its Contemporary Forum Summer Film Festival (as reported by Lilia Menconi in her piece "Art Breaker"). Horton will be in attendance to present the movie and offer insights into her struggle to promote her painting as a legitimate Pollock despite biting opposition from the established art world.

Horton’s painting lacks a signature and any proof of provenance. None of this has slowed down Horton, who enlisted the help of forensic scientist Peter Paul Biro to try and identify the painting’s origin.

On the back of the piece, Biro discovered a nearly complete fingerprint left in paint. Since Pollock never served in the army or went to prison, there are no records of his finger prints. Biro headed to Pollock’s New York studio, where he found a fingerprint on a can of blue paint, which he says is a perfect match to the one found on the back of Horton’s painting. Biro also reported that he matched paint samples from the painting to paint found on the floor of Pollock’s studio, which has been preserved as a museum.

Such strong forensic evidence would seem to confirm that the painting is an authentic work, but the art community as a whole remains skeptical.

Thomas Hoving, a former director and curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, had the opportunity to examine the painting and came away unconvinced.

“It has no Pollock heart or soul… I don’t believe it’s a Jackson Pollock,” Hoving told the filmmakers in the documentary. Many others in the art community agree with his skepticism, and some experts have challenged the forensic evidence found by Biro.

But Horton says their rejection of the painting has less to do with the work and more to do with her.

“Here I am, a former truck driver. I’m 75 with an eighth grade education,” Horton says. “I don’t fit into the elite New York art world. If a lady of name had found this painting, it would have been sold a long time ago. But they don’t want to listen to me.”

While the painting remains unsold, its story has attracted a lot of attention over the years. In addition to appearances on programs like The Montel Williams Show, Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with Jay Leno, Horton has discussed her painting with The New York Times and 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper.

This publicity has resulted in a few offers for the painting, including a recent bid of $9 million, but Horton says she’s not going to accept less then the painting’s real worth. A recent sale of Jackson Pollock’s No. 5,1948 sold for $140,000,000 dollars according to the New York Times. This sale, which has not been officially confirmed, would be the highest known price ever paid for a single painting.

“The reason I didn’t sell the painting for the money I was offered was because of the principle. I thought if you’re fair with me, then I’ll be fair with you. I’ve heard from people around the world who have Picassos and Turners and they can’t get them into the art houses, and it’s only because of who they are,” says Horton.

Despite the setbacks, Horton keeps a positive attitude about the tribulations she has endured over that $5 purchase. She maintains that someday people will have no alternative other then to listen to what she has to say, and that day will make the fight worthwhile.

“The day will come when you won’t be able to sell a painting without the forensic evidence to back it up, no matter who you are,” says Horton. “ I just hope that day comes while I’m still around.”

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan McNamara