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September 26, 2016

The Statement No Curator Wants to Hear: "It's a very good copy but it's a fake"

Portrait of Tainui Chief, Kewene Te Haho purportedly by Gottfried Lindauer,
originally purchased by Trust Waikato for $121,000 for the Trust Waikato Art and Taonga Collection, Waikato Museum te Whare Taonga o Waikato. The portrait was judged a fake in 2012.
Displaying a fake painting in an art exhibition isn't usually something advantageous for a museum but for the Waikato Museum curating a "genuine fake" juxtaposed alongside the genuine article from their own museum collection serves to highlight an important point.  Fakes and forgeries are not easily detected and sometimes authenticity is coloured not just by what the viewer wants to believe but by the amount of money spent on an artwork, its prestigious location, or simply a desire of the part of a collector to own a work of art by a renowned artist.  

Curator and art historian Penelope Jackson compares
a copy of Floral Still Life, by Adele Younghusband with the original at Waikato Museum. 

Casual estimates by museum professionals estimate that upwards of 20 percent of the artworks held in major museums around the world will no longer be attributed to the same artists one hundred years from now.  While a chunk of that percentage will change due to advances in scientific evidence and art historical research, an embarrassing number of them will be relegated to storerooms as forgeries committed by tricksters.

To keep forgery and other art crimes in the public's eye New Zealand's Waikato Museum in Hamilton will be hosting An Empty Frame: Crimes of Art in New Zealand from now through January 8, 2017.    The exhibition, guest curated by art historian Penelope Jackson, features 30 New Zealand artworks that each, at some stage, have been the "victims" of an art crime; each accompanied by its own "behind the crimes" story.

Walking through the exhibition one gets a full on view of the psyche and motives of the art criminals who have tried their hand at artistic skulduggery in New Zealand. Some crimes appear to have been simply opportunistic while others were far more calculating.  

The exhibition also reminds us of the value of authenticity and how New Zealander's affection for Māori culture has been exploited by forgers who seem to have caught on that painting up "unknown" artworks in the style of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the best-known painters of Māori portraits, could fetch a pretty penny at auction. One painting, a portrait of Tainui Chief, Kewene Te Haho by a still unknown artist, remains part of the Trust Waikato Art and Taonga Collection held at Waikato Museum and is on display as part of the exhibition.

From forgery and fraud to theft and vandalism An Empty Frame offers patrons a first hand view of some of New Zealand's most intriguing art crime cases. With an emphasis on the ways in which art crimes harm *everybody* — not just by cheating rich buyers, museums and their agents, not just by ruining a few reputations, nor even by distorting whole markets, the exhibition deftly illustrates how crimes against art hurt everyone.  

At times the victims are individuals... at times the victims are galleries... at times the victims are cities and states... and at times the victims are entire countries.

1 Grantham Street
Hamilton, New Zealand

Exhibition Dates: 24 September 2016 - 8 January 2017
10 am – 5 pm, excluding Christmas Day

Entry Fee: None

This exhibition is accompanied by a book, Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story (Awa Press). On Saturday 1 October, Penelope Jackson will give a free public talk on art crime and forgery at 10:30 am.

Please visit for further information.