In our final post rounding up the year 2010 John Kelly writes from Ireland where he finds things getting curiouser every day…
Close Examination, Fakes, Mistakes and Rey Mysterio – A year in review
Back in the summer I sat at an Irish pub (le Snug) in France eating incredibly good Thai fishcakes and drinking an Italian red, whilst looking at Trompe l’œul windows across the street. As I ate and drank I pondered on thoughts of deception whilst opposite a man in a dress sat on a stool outside Le Crazy Bar – this man had a large physique, big breasts with protruding nipples and fake silver and blonde hair. As I looked at him I nearly choked on my delicious food when my son Oscar blurted out that wrestling on TV is FAKE! You mean Rey Mysterio, The Edge and The Big Show are putting it on? Yep he replied. “And Santa?” I asked. “Dad, Santa is not a wrestler”.
I had to lie down after my son’s revelation mixed with the wine, so as he played with his wrestler dolls I pulled out my light holiday reading that also touched on the theme of deception, Franz Kafka’s ‘The Judgment’. This is a story about a young man who believes he is corresponding with a less successful friend. In consideration for his friend’s position his correspondence hides his own successes in both love and business. As the story unfolds the young man learns that his friend does not really exist and to his horror the father reveals that he is the author of his ‘friend’s’ letters and berates him for being so foolish. It is a wrenching story of betrayal and deception.
On our way back home we pop into the National Gallery in London to see Close Examination – Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries. This was by far the best exhibition I attended this year and reveals what is truly amazing about Art and how we value it. For in Art, whether it be the object or the contemporaneous experience we value authenticity, yet art has a long tradition of being associated with “cunning and trickery”. In this exhibition there is of course the genuine fake but then there is also the wrongful attribution, the studio copy, the homage and also the long thought of forgery that turns out to be a genuine masterpiece. In an era where few institutions are prepared to take responsibility for mistakes, the National Gallery reveals that even an august institution such as themselves, can be deceived although it is tempered by the time lapse of the purchases (could one imagine the Tate putting on a contemporary exhibition such as this).
Fakes and forgeries permeate art history and continue to this day. Just ask the Australian collector who recently paid 1.1 million for a Brett Whitely painting, Orange Lavender Bay, that turned out to be a rather ambitious attribution. However nobody has been charged in this case for proving theft by deception in art is a difficult and complex process especially as the painting had passed through several dealers. Making a copy of a painting whether of Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Whitely is in itself not an offence. In fact if you do, it goes by the lovely moniker of ‘innuendo’. Even artists copy themselves and this leads people to question their authenticity. Authenticity itself can become the subject of Art just think of Duchamp or Warhol.
On the other hand fraud in art is a difficult business. It is only when you intend to gain financially through deception do you commit a crime. This definition might condemn all realist painters who attempt to sell their work however even outright attempts at deception often go unreported. One suspects most dealers have been taken in at some time but what does one do. Tell the police and accept the public loss of credibility to your expertise or pass it on to some unsuspecting collector, or just quietly take the loss? Artists do not like fakes either – recently two Australian artists have fought back. Charles Blackman and Robert Dickerson took an Art dealer to the Australian Supreme Court and won. National newspapers ran headlines such as; “Top artists sue Peter Gant gallery over `fakes’.”
Deciding what is authentic in art is a scholarly pursuit and is not always black and white as shown back at the National Gallery where embellishment also comes into it. An example is the Renaissance painting Woman at the Window (circa 1510). The pronounced nipples look like she is in a wet t-shirt competition however they were not always seen this way. The circa 1510 nipples were only revealed when a close examination and a cleaning away of the Victorian ‘touch up’ gave this stunning painting its own nipple renaissance. Though one could imagine even today some more prudish people might prefer the flatter Victorian version just as some people prefer le Snug to the Le Crazy Bar! However authenticity was restored and the cover up revealed and our renaissance babe returned to being a blonde rather than the Victorian brunette she had become. The painting was never a fake it was simply touched up like an Irish artist’s biography I recently read on a Chinese gallery web site. This declared the artist had an upcoming New York show in 2010. Somewhat predictably the exhibition that even had a title, never happened, not in 2010 in any case.
Our year of art and culture continued at the Edinburgh Festival where my favorite show was 98% Seance a performance by Barry and Stuart who entertained and spooked us by “…making live contact with ghosts, spirits and demons.” They began by telling us directly that they will lie to us but also said that they will also tell us when they will stop lying. But how does one believe somebody who lies? The two conjures tricked and deceived us into believing their magic as did James James from Adelaide who also brought forward magic on The Royal Mile near the large tattooed & pierced lady who just sat there expecting people to give her money! Whether it was for being pierced or tattooed I am not sure. The festival was fantastic fun involving a suspension of belief combined with a great deal of mirth and a welcome break from the smoke and mirrors of the art world. Deceptively however the Royal Mile is not actually a mile in length!
Returning to Cork in Ireland I contact some other artists who also supposedly have major opportunities in New York. This New York buzz started way back in 2007 after an exhibition at the Sirius Arts centre which upon its conclusion had rumours swirling around that curators from New York had secretly visited the group exhibition [I exhibited in the show]. Opportunity was soon to follow for back then everything was possible, the Irish economy was flying and Rhonda Byrne’s book, The Secret was racing up the best-seller list. Property prices skyrocketed and everybody was getting rich on the deceptively easy idea that to do so, you simply had to be Irish. Like Barry and Stuart, there was a magic trick to creating success and Byrne had the secret: “A shortcut to manifesting your desires is to see what you want as absolute fact.”
In speaking with three other Cork based artists two believed that it was a fact that they were off to New York and another had been promised an exhibition in another US city. Then two visiting sculptors who had been on a Cork Film Centre curatorial residency (strange but true) earlier in the year also told me they had been short-listed for a major New York sculpture commission and were in direct contact via e-mail with a Vice President and Trustee of a major museum. I asked them the e-mail address and a name was reeled off that sounded like but did not quite fit the museum. It made me curious for these rumours of New York exhibitions for Cork artists have persisted however nothing has ever come of them. I made some enquires and corresponded with the New York identity I had been told was organizing this commission. Sadly they advised me they had nothing to do with curatorial work or a Central Park sculpture commission. I informed the artists of this fact and became the proverbial messenger.
Back in 2008 a young Cork artist also thought he was on his way to the Big Apple. He claimed that –
“… a group of Americans had liked the death and desire show and were looking for one or two more artists to promote in America, In particular, New York.”
A Cork based intermediary;
“…showed them the work and she later on contacted me to tell me they really liked the work and had planned to include me so i (sic) was of course genuinley [sic] excited.”
Despite handing the work over to the intermediary and being told by e-mail that the gallery had pre-sales the exhibition and the sales never materialized and the artist had an argumentative correspondence that eventually led him to getting his work back. I contacted the gallery in New York who he was supposedly corresponding with. Strangely the gallery Director claimed that she had been on maternity leave at the time the artist had been writing to her. It leaves a mystery. If she wasn’t writing to this young artist and the New York identity was not writing to the sculptors; who was? Kafka? Rey Mysterio? Rhonda Byrne? Barry and Stuart? Ghosts from Edinburgh? The tattooed lady from the Royal Mile? Or was it one of those fat fake guys in a red suit impersonating Santa?
Merry Xmas for 2010.