As Exhibition Of Fake Art Opens We Ask: What If The Shit You’re Buying Is A Forgery?

January 23, 2010

The Unmade Bed by Tracey Emin Dan Majestic writes: As the first ever exhibition of fake art opens in London, compliments of Scotland Yard – so that you know, it is actually a yard in Scotland where people dress up as cops – the burning question that everyone is asking is this: what if the shit you are buying next time is a forgery?

Every year, according to people who know, or claim to know, which is roughly the same thing, about £200 million worth of forged works of art are sold in Britain alone. The word is that some of the leading museums have so many fakes in their collections that they are terrified of checking them thoroughly. But the greatest worry is that criminals have perfected their skills to such an extent that they are now able to produce fakes that practically no one can distinguish from the real thing.

Last year three Unmade Beds by Tracey Emin, the famous British artist, have been sold to collectors, who actually thought they were buying the real thing. Imagine how distraught they were to find out that they paid several hundred thousand for ordinary beds that had nothing to do with the original. As one of the duped collectors said, in hindsight I do remember that I had a feeling that the soiled sheets did look slightly out of place, but the used condoms and the cigarette butts were so real that I fell for it.

The same happened with many other works by modern artists, with fake black garbage bags filled with rubbish and crushed beers cans bought by serious art collectors who thought they were buying the original.

Which brings us to canned excrement or, as it is more widely known, canned shit. The great Italian artist, Piero Manzoni, started this vibrant trend in art in the 1960s, by putting his own, you may say hard earned shit, into tin cans and labelling them ‘Artist’s shit’, or ‘Merda d’artista’. Since then a whole number of artists throughout the world followed this exciting trend, stuffing their excrement into cans and selling them for serious money to keen art collectors. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people were quick to jump on the shit wagon, so to speak, making perfect fakes and duping collectors into buying them. Forged Manzoni’s masterpieces have been sold last year in their hundreds. The word is that some leading galleries in Europe have been tricked into buying several ‘Manzonies’.

The artistic trend of primitivism, with most of its works resembling the drawing of 3 and 4-year-olds, has been also hit hard by forgeries. Criminals were actually using unsuspecting children, who created the paintings in the belief that they were going to enter competitions and win prizes, selling them later to collectors for enormous amounts of money. In effect it amounted to ruthless exploitation of young talent and coldblooded abuse of the trust that has always existed in the world of art collecting. Last year alone around 1000 forgeries of primitive artists were sold in Britain alone.

The dangers of forged works of modern artists flooding the galleries and private collections has become even more acute, as more and more artists are expanding the boundaries of their creativity and settling for simple concepts. The use of garbage and trash in creating works of art, including stumped out cigarette butts and used condoms, has allowed the criminals to create near perfect – some even say better than the originals – works that sold like hot cakes last year. If things continue to develop at such pace, the art collectors will soon own more fakes than originals.

It remains to be seen how the police will be handling the wave of forgeries that are engulfing the art world. Cynics are saying that the best way would probably be to make works of art more complicated to copy. But what do they know about real creativity? Exactly, pretty much nothing. So the only advice that experts give is to check carefully whose shit it is that you are buying and if in doubt, buy some other shit.

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