"Authenticity..." breathed the aerial aesthete Rebecca Cathcart-Monet into the phone.
"Beg pardon..." I rejoined.
"It is what THEY ALL crave...artists, art galleries, dealers, auctioneers, collectors....auth-en-ticity" she whispered.
"Duly noted...." I began.
"Art Forgers!" continued The Aviatrix with the Mostest "They take advantage of the cult of the authentic...ironic no?"
"I guess...." I offered uncertain as to Rebecca's meaning.
"Meet me at the Springfield Art Museum tomorrow, there is a special exhibit of famous art forgers, including the Matisse fakes of Elmyr de Hory!"
"Oh Elmyr..." I muttered recalling with the simplest nostalgia his star turn in Orson Welles' "F for Fake".
Rebecca continued, "It is called "Intent to Deceive
" its the sort of a program that doesn't come around on the institutional circuit all that often!"
"True dat" muttered I recalling Rebecca's stint as an art appraiser and onetime auctioneer.
"Oh look up a nice decommissioned landing strip for me and my Antonov An-2 willya!"
Sure enough, I found Ms Cathcart-Monet a nice war surplus landing strip by the waters of the Connecticut River and played the careful chauffeur and conveyed our heroine to the Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts, wherein a unique exhibit is currently being offered of master art forgeries from the aforementioned Elmyr de Hory, as well as Mark Landis, Han van Meegeren, Eric Hebborn & John Myatt.
For the most part these are men with serious artistic chops allied with a strong technical bent, sufficient skills in fact to outwit the experts that stand guard over the world's artistic legacy. That is what makes this lot so interesting, it was never enough to paint a picture even a sublime forgery of one of Picasso's masterworks, it had to pass an exacting technical muster of "authentication"...and that required MacGyverish levels of enterprise.
Hans van Meeregen,for example mixed bakelite into his paints and completely foxed the the standard regime for verifying the age of an alleged masterwork.
Elmyr de Hory was a self taught expert in sources of old canvasses and aged paper, perfect components for world class fakes (one of which made it all the way into the collection of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard though never actually displayed).
And it is this very fetish for authenticity that drives the whole art market, it is also the very thing the enterprising forger exploits for his or her own gain.
Rebecca remarked that most of the featured felons had a grievance of one type or another, they painted in outdated styles or perhaps did not love the classics enough to refrain from cashing in. Certainly almost all of them wallowed in a peculiar type of false consciousness, wherein they took pride in theirir art forgeries making fools of the so called experts and their alleged elitism.
In fact, Eric Hebborn was himself an expert, who often authenticated other works of art and clearly used his own elite knowledge to corrupt institutional art collections the world over.
Rebecca remarked that Elmyr in particular was a Homosexual and Jewish, he was perfectly prepared to suffer to ensure his own survival in Hitler's Europe but it was for damn sure he wasn't going to suffer for his art...and so he painted fake Matisse's and ersatz Picasso's...and kept it up thru the late 1960's virtually flooding Europe with spurious artworks while he lived the good life on the island of Ibiza.
His neighbor penniless writer Clifford Irving wrote his biography once Elmyr's cover was blown, which likely led to Irving's entirely spurious phony Howard Hughes autobiography which in turn brought all and sundry to the throne of Orson Welles and his last film the incomparable "F For Fake
"But they all must have been doing something right" muttered Rebecca, "they all got a gallery show at the D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts!"
"Art is a lie that tells the truth" I said "This lot though, needs needs that truth-telling special! This is what you get when you puff up authenticity (a much battered word) into a virtue as opposed to mere honesty".
And with that and flip of her trademark orange scarf, Rebecca grinned waved & took to the skies in her antique Antonov An-2...I bowed solemnly and beat a slow retreat up Route 91 North when would we meet again?
Labels: Hans van Meeregen - Elmyr de Hory - Eric Hebborn - Rebecca Cathcart-Monet - Clifford Irving - Orson Welles