ART CRIMES///THE REAL ORIGINAL FAKES…

May 21, 2007  |  Uncategorized

The art world has always been the playground of fakes, forgers, and straight-up frauds, but rarely have these phantoms been so thoroughly honored as in the current show "FAKES AND FORGERIES: THE ART OF DECEPTION" at Connecticut's BRUCE MUSEUM. With a dazzling array of top-notch imitations of original artworks often rendered as sublimely as the original articles, this show traces the timeline of art forgery from ancient history to the present day in studious detail. Of course, in this era of political correctness the preferred terminology for the works on display are "in the style of" rather than "fake." Even pirates have standards. READ ON...

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THEY ARE INAUTHENTIC, YES, BUT BEAUTIFUL
By Grace Glueck
SOURCE: NYTimes.com; Published: May 18, 2007

It could have fooled me, as it fooled others. The exquisitely detailed sculpture of St. Michael battling the dragon of the Apocalypse, in half-human scale, wrought in gilt silver with semiprecious stones, is a gorgeous thing, showing the saint looking down in triumph as his lance pierces a loathsome creature writhing at his feet. For a long time it was thought to be an original medieval work, so well regarded that it was once part of a Rothschild collection.

But it turned out to be an original fake, perpetrated in the 19th century by one Luigi Parmiggiani (1860 to about 1932), a k a Louis Marcy. It is now the centerpiece of a lively and illuminating show, “Fakes and Forgeries: The Art of Deception,” organized by the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., where Marcy’s creation is accompanied by some 50 other objects of the forger’s art, from antiquity to now. The show includes a Cycladic head given the date of around 2,500 B.C., and Campbell’s soup cans proclaimed as Andy Warhol originals.

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Among the other “treasures” here are Miró and Giacometti paintings by the versatile English faker John Myatt; a Matisse pastiche by the Hungarian charmer Elmyr de Hory (the subject of a biography by the literary forger Clifford Irving, who, with Mr. de Hory, was in turn the subject of a film by Orson Welles); and signed counterfeits by unknowns in the manner of de Kooning and Basquiat.

The show is devoted by and large to intentional art faking or forgery, applied to paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and photographs, and the many means of doing it. But a possible exception to the intentionally fraudulent is a finely wrought Renaissance-style carved marble plaque depicting the Madonna and Child, by Giovanni Bastianini (1830-1868).

Encouraged by a dealer to create pastiches of quattrocento artists’ works, Bastianini based this one on a 15th-century Italian polychrome relief by Antonio Rosellino, and it was probably passed off as an authentic creation from that period. Yet Bastianini did not really intend to deceive, and notwithstanding their unoriginality, his works were bought by museums like the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert. This particular marble is vibrant enough to stand as a work of art on its own.

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Among other exceptions are the amazing “pre-Columbian” knockoffs produced by Brígido Lara, a native of Mexico who, raised near archaeological digs in Oaxaca and Veracruz, tuned into Maya, Aztec and other ancient styles.

Prompted by the ancient artifacts around him, he started making ceramic sculptures in the 1950s, using the same materials. He claims that the works he sold to tourists and dealers were always identified as of his own authorship. But eventually they got into the art market as genuine pre-Columbian sculptures.

Mr. Lara is represented in the show by a wonderful life-size painted figure, “Large Standing Woman,” that scholars believe depicts Cihuateotl, the Aztec goddess of women who died in childbirth. Her mouth is open in what appears to be an agonized scream, her eyes are closed, and she wears a headdress adorned with the snouts of four blue dragons. The work was given to the St. Louis Art Museum in 1979 by Morton D. May.

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Dating tests have proved inconclusive, but many authorities now believe it is spurious. Interestingly enough, when Mr. Lara was arrested in 1974 on grounds of trafficking in stolen artifacts, he asked for clay and produced reproductions of the supposedly purloined goods. On demonstrating that he was a forger rather than a thief, Mr. Lara was released. He ended up being hired by the anthropology museum in Xalapa to restore ancient objects. Now authorized to make legitimate replicas, he signs them but continues to assert that his creations, both signed and unsigned, are not forgeries.

The show raises the question of what exactly a fake or forgery is, and how do you tell one from, say, an artist’s honest attempt to copy the work of another? Not simple questions, as Nancy Hall-Duncan, senior curator at the Bruce who assembled the show, makes clear in her catalog essay. As a basic definition she holds a forgery to be “a work that, by mimicking the style of an artist or replicating his signature, represents itself as being produced by that artist,” constituting “a deliberate attempt to deceive.”

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But to complicate matters our perception of what’s real and what’s not has been altered in the present day, she suggests, by the explosion of replication in our society, occasioned by copying machines, digital cameras, sheep cloning and such. In the art world, reproductions occur not only in prints and photography but also in the work of artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Some artists have even questioned the value of originality and unique authorship by appropriating the work of others, for example Sherrie Levine’s making her own art statement by rephotographing the work of Walker Evans.

Why make fakes? The obvious answer is money, but there are other motives, ranging from anger at the art world and its elite to a desire to show off the forger’s own skills at copying, if not creativity. Mr. Marcy, for example, was arrested in Paris in 1903 not for forgery — although his house was full of suspect “antiquities” — but for his anarchistic beliefs. After his release from prison he started a journal that attacked the capitalist art world, including even forgers.

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Probably the 20th century’s most famous forger is Han van Meegeren, a Dutch-born faker whose “Christ and His Disciples at Emmaus” (about 1936-37), shown here, is one of the world’s most familiar examples of the forger’s art. Painted in what he held was the early style of the 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, whose output was brilliant but scanty, the van Meegeren version was laid over an authentic but anonymous 17th-century painting. Roughly based on “Supper at Emmaus” (about 1605) by Caravaggio, the van Meegeren fooled Dutch art experts and dealers and, according to the exhibition catalog, was bought in 1937 by the Dutch Rembrandt Society for about $4.7 million in today’s dollars, then donated to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Mr. van Meegeren was arrested by Dutch authorities not for forgery but on a charge of collaboration with the enemy. Hoping to help his case, he confessed to forging 14 Dutch masterpieces, including “Christ and His Disciples.” Like Mr. Lara, he asked for materials to be brought to his home, where in front of six official witnesses he demonstrated the truth of his confession by painting his last work, “Young Christ Teaching in the Temple.”

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The collaboration charges were dropped. He was charged instead with forging signatures and sentenced to a year in prison but died six weeks after the sentencing. Today, more than half a century later, the van Meegeren forgeries look grotesque beside the actual work of Vermeer. How could anyone, least of all art experts, have taken them seriously?
You may well ask, but there’s no real answer. Take it for granted that, as long as art is with us, fakes and forgeries will be too.

“Fakes and Forgeries: The Art of Deception” will be on view through Sept. 9 at the Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, Conn.; (203) 869-0376 or brucemuseum.org.

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