Tags: Fine Art | Museum Art | Forgery

Are Forgeries Fine Art?

Friday, 04 December 2015 04:55 PM Current | Bio | Archive

During the Renaissance, art students learned to draw and paint by copying masterworks and often sold copies as originals. Cunning artist-forgers seek money, fame and power from what they consider to be an art world filled with phony, prejudiced, inept people posing as experts.

Noah Charney in "The Art of Forgery," says Renaissance artistic ideals and morals were much different than they are today. During his 20s, Michelangelo copied masterworks and sold the replicas as originals. One of his early sculptures was created to represent an ancient Roman work, but when it was discovered he created it, his reputation grew. He was identified as a great artistic talent, not a forger.

According to historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and Jonathon Keats’ 1996 book "Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Time," Michelangelo borrowed art from owners, copied it, returned imitations to the lenders and kept the originals. He became adept at forging. He faked an ancient marble sculpture, buried it in a garden and damaged it, to create the illusion of age. He seemed to enjoy swindling famous collectors, dealers and even a Catholic cardinal, and because he was remarkably gifted, those who found out they were duped usually forgave his chicanery.

Thomas Hoving stated in his book "False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes," “It’s the Renaissance works of art faked in the 16th and 17th centuries that are dangerous. These are nearly impossible to detect.”

Many in the art world tend to publicize extraordinary forgers’ work as being exemplary but forgers are parasites. Their tricky crimes may be intriguing but their behavior certainly isn’t glamorous, as films like The Thomas Crown Affair suggest. Most counterfeiters hide their work, fear getting caught and lead deceptive lives.

Art forgers strive to prove they are artistic geniuses. To them, the hoax of forgery is a way to pay back the art world for not praising as “great” their original canvases. They know people are more apt to purchase (and not reject or scrutinize) a unparalleled fake. When high-roller money is at stake, rules are broken, greed sets in, scams escalate, and crooks are encouraged to forge.

Hundreds of museums are filled with a plethora of fakes, from ceramics to paintings. Their duped curators fell for cons because fakes tested to be from a certain period, were stylistically spot on, and phony documentations looked real.

A few years ago, forger Shaun Greenhaigh gave the finger to the art world by selling millions of dollars of counterfeits. Scotland Yard described him and his family as “possibly the most diverse forgery team in the world, ever.” In 2007, Greenhaigh was sentenced to 4 years, eight months in prison. He served half that time.

Remarkably, London’s prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum exhibited in 2010 Greenhaigh’s fakes and the Metropolitan Police built a replica model of the shed where Greenhaigh worked and exhibited many of his forgeries, giving other artists the notion that fraud is lucrative and brings recognition to artists who otherwise would remain broke and unknown.

The opaque art world has no governing body policing it. Forgers know most convoluted buyers won’t question the validity of art or provenance, thus they commit fraud in a cavalier manner.

Critics raise the question: Does a famous Vermeer painting cease to be beautiful when it turns out to be a duplicate created by Dutch artist-forger Van Meegeren (1889-1947)? No one questions beauty, but fakes are mere copies of another person’s innovative creations.
Like Pablo Picasso (who authenticated some forgeries as his own work), Andy Warhol allowed other people to create and sign his work. Did that practice lessen the value or validity of the art? The majority of the art world says, no!

Recent historians have claimed superior forgeries are as fine as originals and should be revered as much as (or more than) originals. They feel: If you can’t identify a forgery, then it’s as good or better than an authentic piece and should command the same price. That philosophy stimulates forgers to continue to dupe the art world.

Many of the best forgers gloat about exposing art world ignorance and pretentiousness and they relish upsetting the apple cart of value. Although Jonathon Keats claims great counterfeits are high art, they are created to deceive, uplift warped egos and make criminals rich.

In the new tech age of digital imagery and special printers, duplicating art is at an all time high. In the future, the art world will depend on scientific analysis, X-rays and paint testing to help distinguish real art from copies. That is a good thing, because most authenticating experts fear lawsuits and no longer give opinions. The question is, As art forensic technology improves, will forgers become more adept at their craft and will it be even harder to detect the best counterfeits?

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.

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During the Renaissance, art students learned to draw and paint by copying masterworks and often sold copies as originals. Cunning artist-forgers seek money, fame and power from what they consider to be an art world filled with phony, prejudiced, inept people posing as experts.
Fine Art, Museum Art, Forgery
Friday, 04 December 2015 04:55 PM
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