Showing posts with label Jonathon Keats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jonathon Keats. Show all posts

August 18, 2013

Jonathan Keats' "Forged: Why Fakes Are The Great Art of Our Age" reviewed in The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013

Catherine Sezgin reviews Jonathan Keats' Forged: Why Fakes Are The Great Art of Our Age (Oxford University Press 2013) in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Keats, an art critic for San Francisco Magazine who has previously published on art forgery in Art & Antiques, wants to argue that the problem with forgeries is a problem with us: "We need to examine the anxieties that forgeries elicit in us now. We need to compare the shock of getting duped to the cultivated angst evoked by legitimate art, and we need to recognize what the art establishment will never acknowledge: no authentic modern masterpiece is as provocative as a great forgery. Forgers are the foremost artists of our age."

Keats highlights "six modern masters." After World War II, Lothar Malskat, a German restorer, fakes a mural in a damaged 13th century church. In the 1920s, Alceo Dossena, an Italian sculptor, creates antiqued marbles. In the 1930s, Han van Meegeren, a successful Dutch portrait artist, forges six paintings by Vermeer and sells them to the Nazis.

This book review is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney. It is available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

March 10, 2013

Jonathan Keat's FORGED: What Is Culture? Tom Keating (1917-1984)


The artist who copyrighted his mind in 2003, Jonathan Keats, questions the concept of originality in his new book, FORGED: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (December 2012, Oxford University Press).

What is Culture? Tom Keating (1917-1984)

In 1982, British national television showed Tom Keating demonstrating how he painted in the style of masters such as Titian and Rembrandt. In his 1977 autobiography The Fake’s Progress, Keating, a former housepainter who had worked for art restorers, declared the use of inferior materials (“recklessness”) such as acrylics in ‘oil paintings’ indicated that his pictures in the style of great masters were never meant to fool the serious art market.

Rather than scraping down the old potboilers he bought in junk shops, he simply cleaned them with alcohol and reprimed them with a layer of rabbit-skin glue. He painted directly onto this surface, often in acrylics, sometimes brushing on a layer of darkening varnish before the paint cured. The results were predictably catastrophic. Even if his synthetic pigments were never detected by scientific testing, the paint would start to peel in a few decades, betraying his ruse.

Keating allegedly forged the work of Cornelius Krieghoff, a Dutch artist of the 19th century famous for his Canadian landscapes. Keats writes:

A Dutch artist working in Quebec City in the 1850s, Krieghoff produced thousands of diminutive farm and tavern scenes, many of which were bought as souvenirs by British soldiers. Historians came to value them for their detailed documentation of Canadian customs. Collectors coveted them for their decorative charm. Dealers delighted in their escalating prices, reaching into the thousands of pounds by the 1950s. Keating appreciated them for Krieghoff’s skillful depiction of “jolly little Brueghelesque figures” and for the fact that Krieghoff “did so many versions of the same picture” – to which hundreds more could and would be added over the following decade.

In the early 1950s, Keating sold forgeries through junk shops in south London, then through country auctions in Scotland where he worked ‘restoring the trifling art collections of minor Highlands castles’, then on to counterfeiting paintings by artists such as Degas, Goya and Samuel Palmer whom he claimed possessed him and used him to create more artworks long after their deaths. A Times of London correspondent, Geraldine Norman, began unraveling the forgeries of Keating in 1970 but didn’t publish until 1976. Once confronted, Keating immediately confessed:

Alluding to the full scope of his forgery, he declared that money was not his incentive.  “I flooded the market with the ‘work’ of Palmer and many others, not for gain (I hope I am no materialist) but simply as a protest against the merchants who make capital out of those I am proud to call my brother artists, both living and dead.”

International headlines followed Keating, along with a book-deal to be ‘ghost-written’ by Norman’s husband, Frank, a petty-thief-turned-playwright. However, at Keating’s three-week trial ended when he fell ill and the prosecutor dropped the case. Keating recovered and became a celebrity after forging works for more than two decades in 12 television episodes before he died of heart failure.

March 9, 2013

Jonathan Keats' FORGED: Elmyr de Hory (1906(?)-1976, What Is Identity?


The artist who copyrighted his mind in 2003, Jonathan Keats, questions the concept of originality in his new book, FORGED: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (December 2012, Oxford University Press). He writes a section on art forger Elmyr de Hory.

The forger most commonly known as Elmyr de Hory fabricated his name, his life story, and had so little credibility that quantifying the number of oil paintings faked is unknown even decades after his suicide in Ibiza in 1976. Keats writes:

Elmyr’s plagiarism of authentic works only served to obfuscate, confounding the identification of work he really faked. In the catalogue for a 2010 de Hory retrospective at the Hillstrom Art Museum, Irving estimated that up to 90 percent of Elmyr’s forgeries remained undetected. “Elmyr’s illegitimate masterpieces in public and private collections under the names of a number of the great Modernists may continue resting undisturbed, perhaps forever,” mused museum director Donald Myers, inadvertently echoing de Hory. (“If you hang them in a museum and if they hang long enough,” said Elmyr in F is for Fake, “then they become real.”)

Orson Welles’ film F is for Fake (1975) and the fictional biography Fake (1969) by Clifford Irving (of the Howard Hughes autobiography hoax) provided no further biographical clarity about de Hory.  But what of the effect in the art world of de Hory’s fakes? In 1952, when Beverly Hills gallery owner Frank Perls decided drawings presented by Louis Raynal (de Hory) ‘were fraudulent, he evicted Raynal from his gallery and – as he later recalled – threatened to call the police if Raynal didn’t leave town'.  Three years later, a curator at Boston’s Fogg Art Museum also returned drawings represented as by Modigliani and Renoir to Raynal and relegated an Elmyr ‘Matisse’ to storage. ‘Lest he (de Hory) sue for defamation, Elmyr was never told what happened.’ In 1966, Texan oil tycoon Algur Hurtle Meadows bargained hard to purchase 58 modern masterpieces in oils, watercolors and gouache pictures by Elmyr de Hory through a pair of art dealers, Legros and Lessard, alleged to have manufactured the authentication of these works. Keats writes:

They bribed the experts or had their official stamps counterfeited. When the artists were still alive, the duo gambled on poor memory and failing eyesight, a ruse known to have worked at least once on an eighty-nine-year-old Kees van Dongen, who authenticated an Elmyr ostensibly painted when van Dongen was in his forties. The extensive documentation allowed Legros and Lessard to circumvent galleries, retailing directly to the nouveau riche of Europe and the United States.

De Hory spent the last years of his life selling paintings in the manner of master artists under his own name until he killed himself ‘with a cocktail of sleeping pills and cognac to avoid extradition to France, where he was to be tried for fraud in the long-drawn-out [Algur Hurtle] Meadows case.'

February 21, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - ,, No comments

Jonathan Keats' FORGED: Eric Hebborn (1934-1996)

ARCA Blog Editor Catherine Sezgin continues her look at Jonathan Keats book FORGED. [Here's a link to a 45-minute documentary on the art forger Eric Hebborn on YouTube.]

What is History? Eric Hebborn (1934-1996)

The number of works by Eric Hebborn in public collections will never be certain.  Between the 1960s and his death in 1996, Hebborn created an estimated thousand drawings in the manner of various old masters, artfully mixed in with thousands more of legitimate origin that he handled as a dealer.  Though dozens of the fakes have been detected by curators, and more were revealed by Hebborn himself in his notoriously mischievous 1991 autobiography, Drawn to Trouble, the vast majority remain in circulation under names other than his own.

In his chapter on Eric Hebborn, Keats describes the forger’s schooling (which ended when Hebborn set the school cloakroom on fire) and artistic training. After earning numerous prizes and ‘had establishment credentials that were impeccable – and that would have ensured him a sterling career a century earlier, before modernism supplanted academic acumen with avant-garde innovation,’ Hebborn work for art restorers allegedly led to opportunities for fraud. Hebborn would never be convicted of forgery or any other crime – his punishment was a fatal blow to the back of his head at the age of 61. The forger, who even published a handbook on his techniques, blamed experts for the false attributions of his works.

Hebborn distinguished his operation from one blatantly out to make money by subscribing to a “moral code”: “Never sell to a person who was not a recognized expert, or acting on expert advice,” he vowed. “Never make a description or attribution unless a recognized expert has been consulted; in which case the description or attribution would in reality be the expert’s. Hebborn’s job was to create artwork that would silently telegraph the attribution he intended. To succeed, he needed to absorb not only the nuances of how the master drew or painted but also the intricacies of how the connoisseur reasoned.

In 1978 the Colnaghi & Co. in London recalled some Old Master drawings brought to them by Hebborn. Keats examines the possibility that Hebborn exaggerated his forgeries and his effect on the history of art.

Of course, his reputation as a fraud was what gave his confabulation credibility. He didn’t need to make five hundred forgeries after the Colnaghi affair; simply claiming to have done so was enough to throw art history into turmoil.  In fact, faking his fakery may have been his masterstroke, since no amount of sleuthing could detect forgeries that never existed.

We can imagine that any drawing lacking certain provenance is by Eric Hebborn, or by the school of Hebborn established with the publication of his Art Forger’s Handbook. By extension, we can see all art of any age as contemporary, eternally current, and perpetually relevant. Historians may fret, and philosophers may quibble. But for the artists who made the work, whoever they may be, forgery is immortality.

February 19, 2013

Jonathan Keats' FORGED: Alceo Dossena (1878-1937)

Madonna and Child, marble
Alceo Dossena, 1930
San Diego Museum of Art

Artist and critic Jonathan Keats highlighted Italian forger Alceo Dossena in his book, FORGED: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age. A version of the chapter on Dossena was previously published in Art & Antiques Magazine ("Almost Too Good") in November 2011.

In 1925, the Cleveland Museum of Art paid $18,000 for a painted wood statue of a life-size Madonna and Child from a convent chapel in the town of Montefiascone near Lake Bosena north of Rome. Two years later, a series of X-rays revealed that the sculpture was not by Giovanni Pisano or any known Renaissance or medieval artist due to the presence of 20-th century nails used in the construction.  The Ohio museum returned the work to Europe before paying $120,000 for an ancient marble statue of Athena.  In 1928 AlceoDossena, angry that his fraudulent associates had made significantly more money than they had paid him for his forgeries, confessed he had made both works in his studio in Rome.

In his hometown of Cremona in Lombardy, Dossena learned painting and sculpture at a trade school then apprenticed for art restorers in Cremona and Milan, which gave him ‘practice in the traditional crafts, as well as a thorough knowledge of how to artificially age materials. Equally important, it put him in physical contact with the work of masters from Pisano to Mino da Fiesole to Simone Martini (Dossena would later create works that he would attribute to these artists).

Madonna and Child, wood, early 20th century
Alceo Dossena, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Dossena, who later claimed not to have intended to defraud anyone with his creations, was peddling artificially aged works in dive bars during World War I when he met two antique and art dealers who set him up in a studio after the war. It’s estimated that Dossena operated in his forgery studio from 1918 to 1928, providing product worth $2 million on the art market. Keats writes:

They benefited from the harsh economic conditions following World War I, which fostered a black market in genuine masterpieces illicitly sold by impoverished European institutions to the wealthy patrons of ambitious American museums.  Rumors were rife and alluring.  Even the Vatican was said to be furtively selling off hidden treasures.

In addition to the wooden Madonna in the style of Pisano, Dossena created dozens of works: an Annunciation in marble (Simone Martini) sold to Helen Clay Frick for $225,000; a marble sarcophagus (Mino da Fiesole) sold to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for $100,000; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased ‘a genuine piece of archaic Greek sculpture’ that went straight to the basement.

Immediately after Dossena exposed his work as forgeries in 1928, the Cleveland Art Museum called Dossena “among the greatest sculptors of the day” (this institution does not include any works by this artist in their collection online") . But when Dossena’s works were sold under his own name at auction in New York City in 1933, 39 pieces sold for a total of $9,125.  Critics then dismissed Dossena’s artistic talent in the seven years before his death. Keats writes:

The schism in Dossena’s reputation reflects the problem presented by his art, that it cannot adequately be categorized as true or false.  Neither the praise he garnered in the 1920s nor the condemnation that followed does his work justice.  He was an original and he was a copyist, and the compulsion to take sides merely reflects society’s categorical literal-mindedness.  Modern viewers deem authenticity a prerequisite for an artifact to be a work of art.  Dossena presented people with an authentic paradox.