Magazine article The New Yorker

ONE MAN'S WALLPAPER; Gumshoe Dept.; Gumshoe Dept

Magazine article The New Yorker

ONE MAN'S WALLPAPER; Gumshoe Dept.; Gumshoe Dept

Article excerpt

The art world, we keep hearing, is in a fine mess, awash in money and bereft of direction, and a recent documentary, "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?," seems to prove the point. In it, a retired truck driver in California named Teri Horton buys what she considers to be an ugly painting as a gag gift for five dollars at a thrift store, is later told that it looks like a Jackson Pollock (the title refers to her initial reaction), and then struggles to convince anyone who matters that it could be the real thing. The film pits old-fashioned art authenticators (Thomas Hoving, the former Met director, runs his fingers over the painting before declaring, "It's dead on arrival") against a forensic scientist in Montreal, Peter Paul Biro, who finds what he believes to be Pollock's paint-stained fingerprints on the back of the canvas. Horton says she has turned down an offer of nine million dollars for the painting from a Saudi collector.

The other day, at Cipriani Dolci, in New York, Kevin Jamison, a graduate student in government and politics at St. John's, and the co-founder of a fledgling art consultancy, flipped through a copy of Ellen Landau's "Jackson Pollock," comparing the reprints in the book with a pair of images stored on his iPhone. These were of paintings he'd bought, for twenty-five dollars apiece, at an antique shop in Norfolk, Virginia, this summer, and they looked, to an untrained eye, like plausible Pollocks, at least in the sense that they were abstract and drippy. "They were under a stack of paintings about this tall," Jamison, who has a baby face masked by stubble, said, pointing at the tabletop. One is seventeen inches by twenty-one inches, and painted on rice paper, using only white and gray. The other is twenty-six by twenty-six, on canvas, and much more colorful: green, yellow, red, white, and black.

Jamison watched "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" upon returning from Virginia, and then set about finding what he hoped could be useful forensic details, which he also showed on his iPhone: a flake of gold paint, visible only under magnification (Pollock used gold spray paint in his studio); rusty vintage staples; and a peculiar screwlike indentation that he found on the left side of the larger painting, which he believes could match a similar mark that he spotted in Pollock's "One: Number 31, 1950," at MOMA. …

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