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Fake is the new real

Tyler Green breaks news this morning on his Modern Art News blog that the Art Institute of Chicago has concluded that a Paul Gauguin sculpture in the museum’s collection, The Faun (c1888), isn’t from Gauguin at all, but from the so-called Greenhalgh Forgery Gang (aka The Bolton Forgers) — apparently fine art’s equivalent to the […]

gauguin-sculpture.jpgTyler Green breaks news this morning on his Modern Art News blog that the Art Institute of Chicago has concluded that a Paul Gauguin sculpture in the museum’s collection, The Faun (c1888), isn’t from Gauguin at all, but from the so-called Greenhalgh Forgery Gang (aka The Bolton Forgers) — apparently fine art’s equivalent to the Legion of Doom.

What I find most striking is that anyone would go through the trouble of forging stone sculpture. Stone isn’t a very forgiving medium, and you’d think someone with the skill to create a detailed knockoff of a centaur in repose would have the goods to come up with something original (of course, faux Gauguin can probably fetch much more at the Sotheby’s or, failing that, the Uptown Art Fair). Then again, the mere act of copying a masterwork isn’t different, in concept, than a bar band covering Foreigner (masterwork? somebody must think so) — that is, until it’s marketed as an original (the Greenhalghs are serving time).

This reminds me of the deliciously subversive work of Improv Everywhere, which not long ago jumped on a case of mistaken identity to impersonate Ben Folds Five. The real Ben Folds thought the act was hilarious and invited the fake Ben Folds to take the stage in a choreographed opening of a real Ben Folds Five concert.

… which brings me to a closing thought: What would Gauguin, who would turn 160 next year, do?

  • Cameron Wittig says:

    Fake is the new real at Art Basel ’07:

    “Inside the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) benefit preview for the New Museum, collectors made a beeline for Soho’s Renwick Gallery booth and Los Angeles artist Chris Lipomi’s ’84 Olympics series — small replicas of every painting Basquiat executed in 1984.”

    …Lipomi is working on another 60 mini-Basquiats to finish his series. Like the others, they’re about a third the size of the genuine eighties article, so no one’s going to be leveling the charge of counterfeiter. Yet.

    From nymag.com – http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2007/12/baby_basquiats_storm_art_basel.html

  • Reggie Prim says:

    Reminds me of Eric Hebborn, the master forger who was found lying in the street in Rome with his head bashed open in 1996 shortly after the publication of his book The Art Forger’s Handbook. He was infamous for hundreds of drawings in collections all over the world. He was a talented artist who turned to fakery when his “original” work was ignored. His 1991 biography Drawn To Trouble is still worth a read, if for nothing, the bitterly funny way he skewers the art world.