July 6, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring/Summer 2012: Thierry Lenain on "The Forger's Point of View"

Thierry Lenain writes about the psychology of a forger in "The Forger's Point of View" in the Spring/Summer 2012 electronic issue of The Journal of Art Crime (now available with a subscription).
Abstract: Adopting an interpretative perspective aiming to shed light on the forger’s point of view – the ideas he has of the art, of its history and of his own practice – implies an initial paradox. By definition, the forger would not attribute his productions to any other but himself without concealing his own artistic subjectivity. This is why only failure on the forger’s part or a discovery of the fake can lead to an understanding of his point of view. Under this condition, two pathways open up to the hermeneutic inquiry. It can first be based on the examination of the works themselves. The stylistic distortions and, more importantly, the way of combining the iconographic borrowings betray the imaginary of the forger, working with the intention of deceiving. Their study most often shows a figurative spirit torn between literal imitation and the paradoxical desire to invent what the imitated artists could have created. But beyond that, the words and writings of the forgers also call for interpretation. Whether it means, for them, to revive the destabilizing power of their practice or, in contrast, to legitimize it, their discourse assumes a “theory” of the history of art that inscribes itself as well in the realm of tension and paradox. We see them, indeed, dismiss the historicist reason while at the same time relying on it. On the one hand, they rely upon an aesthetic of the expressive trace according to which all original work translates the spirit of its author as a historically placed subject. On the other, they like to imagine that the spirit of the imitated masters comes to visit them across time (spiritualism), unless they refer to eternal laws of art (idealism), whose notion leaves no room to the difference between the fake and the authentic.
Thierry Lenain is a professor of art theory at Université Libre de Bruxelles. His latest book is Art Forgery: the History of a Modern Obsession.