Thursday, May 22, 2014

We Visual Artists: Dealing With Galleries And Forgers In The Movies And The Real World

I am always drawn to books, articles or Internet revelations about events in the art world. Over the past few months these revelations have been fast and furious.

It is a movie though that oftentimes brings the full impact of events to life. A case in point would be George Clooney's movie "Monuments Men."  It was one thing to read the book but quite another to see the depth of what the Nazi's had done. Well over 5 million art treasures were looted from individuals, museums, and churches across occupied Europe. Those deemed worthy were hidden away while degenerate art was exhibited and then sold or disposed of. While only telling part of the story, two scenes took my breath away and had me close tears. The first scene, showing the galleries of the Louvre stripped was almost beyond comprehension. To read the dry words is one thing. To see it, or an approximation of it is another. However, it was after they realized the art was hidden underground in salt mines, and a soldier flipped the light switch to illuminate the mine you realized with horror what the Nazi's had done. As far as the eye could see, crates of paintings and statues filled the mines. One after another.

Then after it was revealed last year the son of one of Hitlers art dealers had over 1,400 works of that degenerate art in an apartment in M√ľnich, you realize the hunt is still not over. We are talking values of hundreds of millions of dollars. The German government has been unable to find most of the owners and it may well revert back to him.

Yesterday I had a spinal shot to relieve five months of sciatica and was sent home to lie down and rest. Lying on the couch in the den, TV on and remote in hand, I stumbled on not one but two movies about art.

"Boogie Woogie" was a Sundance film primarily about art galleries, their owners, artists and the shenanigans they all pull. It seemed from what little I know about art dealers true enough and revolved around one of Mondrian's paintings called "Boogie Woogie." The wife of a increasingly destitute and dying owner starts a kind of bidding war to sell it between rival galleries. You quickly realize they are not very honorable men and soon women as well. We are dragged into the dealers lives and we discover they are a sordid lot ... artists and the dealers who represent them. Back stabbing, raiding artists, breaking away to start ones own gallery and every act in between.

I am following  a series of email classes from a dealer in Phoenix, Xanadu Gallery. His purpose is to help artists get shown by dealers. Hopefully his advice, which I find little to disagree with, is better than the movies.  If I have any complaint, for an artist there is a lot of business work and not much time for art work.  Something I find on my Etsy stores as well.

"The Forger"
"The Forger" is about a 15 year old boy under the care of social services who artistic ability is stunning. A gallery owner finds the boy, assumes foster custody, and gets him to paint a long "lost" Whistler. Yes, a dealer with crime in his heart. Another artist, also a forger in the past, befriends the boy and the battle is joined.

Forgers fascinate me. To be a good one you have to have talent as good or better than the original artist. What made the original artist amazing was his ability to put down on some media a vision of what they saw.  Here lies the rub. Many forgeries are painted in the style of a Monet or Renoir and are not always direct copies. They are then sold as long lost works of art. The Van Gogh rolled up in a Norwegian attic comes to mind. Not signed, it languished in that attic for a 100 years. It was written off as in the style of Van Gogh until finally a curator saw both a sketch and discussion of in in the letters of Van Gogh to his brother Theo. Signed or not, its worth millions!

60 Minutes recently interviewed the worlds best forger who has painted and sold his forgeries for decades. Finally arrested and facing bankruptcy because of the discovery of what he did, he pointed he passed curators tests for decades. Some estimates say up to 40% of all works in museums are fakes today. Of course we could all hope that 100 years from now we are worth forging as well!

We all have talent. Some more than others but I would urge that before we copy too slavishly, we also try to develop our own voice, develop our own style. Classes are fine but let your own talent ring true. I am beginning to try on my own creations some of the "techniques" I learned at the Society of Decorative Painters" Convention. I fully realize that these techniques will enhance and make my own art and make what I am trying to portray stronger and closer to what I see in minds eye. Copy what they did...only in that class. I have my own ideas and plans! So should you.

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