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Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the publications category.

On Forgery.

I spent a good chunk of my day hunkered down in Borders with ArtNews and a muffin, trying valiantly (and succeeding) to ignore the outside world. ArtNews is the Elle of the art magazine crowd – a quality publication, for sure, but essentially very mainstream and predictable. This issue had its interesting moments scattered amongst the usual stories concerning lawsuits regarding paintings of dubious provenance that may or may or not have been sold under duress during the Nazi regime, and a digression about the performance art aspect of SecondLife & YouTube.

What interested me was not the meta-wankery of imitating Vito Acconci‘s Seedbed in which he masturbated under a ramp by having a Second Life avatar, well, masturbate under a ramp, but a number of articles that dealt with various issues of forgery in the art world. First, a cunning family of forgers was discovered as having passed off an impressive number of forgeries to some top-notch museums and galleries. Most notable among the Greenhalgh family, Shaun was responsible for such works as a bust that fooled even Egyptologists as having belonged to the Armana period. If by “the Armana period” you mean “three weeks ago.”

What I found most interesting was a recreation of a lost Gauguin statue that was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago. Clearly, the forgery was very well done as it convinced museum experts that this was indeed the lost piece that had been described in previous catalogs of the artist’s work. There was no lack of skill or craftsmanship in the piece and it certainly served a special function filling in a gap in Gauguin’s catalog that had been lost.

Really, where is the line between art and forgery? Art students copy old masters all the time. Even established artists are copying and ripping off other artists left and right. How can it be completely valueless to create a convincing copy of another artist’s work? If the issue is attribution, then yes, it does devalue the original artist to have fakes masquerading as their own work – especially since in the economy of the art world, a larger supply drives down demand and devalues all of the other work in circulation. However, as an object, is a forgery inherently worth less than the original?

This comes up in another article on terra cotta statues in China from the 3rd century B.C.E., wherein the government substituted “authentic replicas” for the original statues in an overseas exhibition. The original statues were deemed too fragile to travel – and being as they are over two thousand years old, one can hardly dispute that – and the replicas were on display in Hamburg for weeks before the exhibition was shut down on the basis of fraud. If the replicas were indeed authenticated by the government for use in the exhibition, what is the real qualitative difference between the copies and the originals? Economic value isn’t the question here, no one would be buying or selling the statues in question. What, from the viewer’s standpoint, would be the difference between viewing the replica and viewing the original?

This is very interesting to me. What would be the difference between having a traveling exhibition of museum-authenticated replicas creating greater public access to the work of masters, and an exhibit of the originals? If the exhibition were labelled as such – as replicas – and it was sponsored by the museum or collectors that owned the originals, would it be somehow disadvantageous to them to get publicity for showing copies? I suppose then anyone could show replicas of anything, thus destroying the need to specifically go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, but people still do it even though they can buy a poster of the Mona Lisa (with or without moustache) online. Reproduction hasn’t destroyed the demand for art, what would the effect of replicas be?

Lastly is an article about a collection of Jackson Pollock paintings that were “found” in a storage unit in Long Island. The unit in question belonged to friends of Pollock, the Matta family. The paintings that were recovered and attributed to Pollock have been in dispute since their discovery as scientific analysis has shown that several types of paint were used that were not available until long after Pollock’s death. So, on the one had science says that these couldn’t be Pollocks. However, analysis on the artistic level on the style and working process that went into making these paintings indicate that if they were not made by Pollock himself, they were made by someone intimate enough with his process to duplicate it exactly. This is no small feat, especially in an artist with such a well-studied and idiosyncratic working method as Pollock. If these paintings are not, in fact, authentic Pollocks, aren’t they still works of art for being such convincing copies? To get into another artist’s head is no small task – to do so convincingly enough to fool experts, or at least cast doubt on scientific results that dispute their provenance – is a monumental accomplishment. Certainly, to display these along with bonafide Pollocks if they are, in fact, knock-offs would be disingenuous, but for the artist to made them, a little credit would certainly be due for having mastered the technique so flawlessly.

Andy Warhol once said “Art is what you can get away with” and in the end, I think that’s the crux of the issue. Artists have ripped off and copied other artists since time immemorial and it’s only ever a “forgery” if they get caught. Forgeries are discovered all the time that fooled experts for years – previous to their unmasking, they were just as much art as the originals that they had copied. Once discovered, their value has disappeared. To me this is very odd – art one day, trash the next. So it goes.