One of my favorite movies is Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? It’s a documentary about foul-mouthed, dumpster diving, grandmother named Teri Horton. In 1992, she purchased a painting in a thrift shop for $5.00. As luck would have it, there’s a chance it was painted by Jackson Pollock. When she tried to authenticate it, she ran into a wall of skepticism erected by art world insiders. Who could blame them? It lacked provenance, a signature and it was found in a thrift shop. If Pollocks sold for fifty thousand dollars, then it might be a Pollock. Since they sell for fifty million dollars, it’s not a Pollock.
Undeterred, Ms. Horton went to great lengths to authenticate the painting and sell it as a Pollock. She hired Peter Paul Biro, a forensics expert from Montreal, who matched finger prints on the canvas with some taken from Pollock’s Long Island workshop. Based on this evidence, Ms. Horton received a $9 million dollar offer for the painting. She declined. Bolstered by Mr. Biro’s forensics work, she was determined to sell the painting for $50 million.
Last year, David Grann published a piece in the New Yorker in which he suggests that Biro may have fabricated the fingerprints he found on clients’ paintings, including those on Ms. Horton’s “Pollock.” Working with a crime lab technician, Grann discovered aspects that were inconsistent with normal fingerprints but matched a fingerprint cast that Biro made from a paint can in Pollock’s studio.
The Biro filed a defamation suit against David Grann and Conde Nast last month. The alleged forger accuses Grann of publishing a forgery. Will it be poetic justice or egg in the face? Stay tuned.