"You ain't gonna believe this shit." That's how 73-year-old long-haul trucker Teri Horton begins her story.
The bargain-hunting, Southern California granny bought an "ugly" painting as a gift, at Dot's Spot Thrift for $5. But when the oversized painting -- an abstract of multi-colored paint drips, splatters and swirls -- didn't fit through her neighbor's trailer door, Horton kept it. When another friend told Horton that the painting looked like a Jackson Pollock, the feisty Horton had a quick retort: "Who the fuck is Jackson Pollock?"
Horton was soon to learn more than she ever wanted to know about the late American painter, whose mid-century drip paintings have entered the high-art pantheon. If -- if -- her unsigned painting could be authenticated, it might fetch as much as $50 million.
Horton's Kafka-esque journey into the rarefied world of capital-A art is the subject of Harry Moses' entertaining documentary, now available on DVD. Her find alone warrants the sort of breathless media treatment that accompanies valuable historical documents found stashed in discarded school desks or an Old Master lurking behind a cheaply framed map. But Moses, a veteran of TV's 60 Minutes, expands Horton's story beyond the charm of serendipitous discovery to cast an unflattering light on the art world.
Horton spends nearly a decade trying to get her painting authenticated and accepted. But the milieu of museums, connoisseurs and experts is insular and snobby. Unsigned works can be accepted through circumstantial evidence; in fact, Horton amasses a pretty good case for her painting. But it seems the biggest hindrance to her "Pollock" entering the holy land is simply that it originates with her: a mouthy, uneducated nobody whose artistic tastes run toward clown paintings.
Moses' film is a fascinating snapshot, an illumination of one of our most cherished American myths (get lucky and get rich quick) that simultaneously reveals the deeply exclusionary nature of class that just as quickly cuts down such opportunity. The film also uncovers the extremely arbitrary nature of art scholarship that appears, at least in this case, to exist of dogmatic assumptions that protect high art's status quo, particularly the maxim of "revered artist and process."
But let the snooty art snobs sniff away -- it's much more fun spending the 70 minutes with Horton and her gang of both esteemed and motley supporters.