Thursday, September 22, 2016

ART & CRAFT: The True Story of Forger Mark A. Landis

Mark A. Landis
I just watched one of the more stunning art or artist themed offerings available on Amazon Prime's movie channel. The subject?  About masterful forger Mark Augustus Landis who never charged a penny for his "masterpieces" yet managed to dupe museums for over 30 years! It is one of the more compelling and perplexing tales I think in the annuals of forging. It definitely reminded me of another book I read about forgeries and how to make them. The astonishing statement in that book was the authors statement that up to 40% of all masterpieces in art museums are forgeries.

This movie basically is about the mission of registrar Matthew Leininger who in doing his due diligence regarding any purchased or donated work of art discovered that pieces donated to Oklahoma City Museum of Art by Landis were also being shown in several other museums across the country. Since few artists, excepting Monet, ever make successive works of the same subject he came to realize that the donated works were also "donated" elsewhere. Ah, the Internet is having an effect in rooting out forgers.

Born in 1955 in Virginia to a father who was a lieutenant in the US Navy, he and his parents were
Poster for Art & Craft, the movie about Mark Landis.
Directed by Sam Pullman and Jennifer Grausman It poem
posted to many places around the world including the Philippines, Hong Kong, with NATO in Europe, France, London and finally Brussels where Landis began forging stamp cancellations for friends. His father died of cancer when he was 17 after moving to Mississippi where he still resides. He was admitted to a Kansas hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia being unable to cope with the loss of his father. It is a moving scene as he reads the report about himself from that time. Yes, he still had the documents! I don't think that I would have kept them. He seemed unfazed by the various descriptions of his mental state.

Landis at work. Every artist will recognize the tools and products he uses!
While the movie lightly touches on this, it is clear from watching him throughout the film that he is, well, not quite right. Yet somehow, he remains an amazing artist making copies using the very latest technology. I thought, well, he definitely isn't as simple as he appears. However, it is the scene where he goes to Hobby Lobby to buy frames for his work that makes you realize just how easy it is to make a masterpiece.

While he never graduated from college he did take classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in San Francisco where he worked on the maintenance of damaged paintings. For over 30 years he copied, giving his work to a variety of museums, churches and other public entities often of the same subject noting that "it gets easier each time you do it." Well, yes, I guess so! I know that when I would lose a days work doing graphic design work, the second time around certainly was faster to do as I had already worked out the problems I faced the first time.

Meininger and Tullos preparing for the show "Faux Real"

Landis with his forged "Mona Lisa"
Ultimately though, It was Matthew Leininger's obsession in stopping Landis that ruined, in many ways, his own life. A variety of magazines discovered this forger over the past few years and even some of his identities, one including a Catholic priest who gives away his masterpieces. After he attempted to give away another work saying that it belonged to his mother the director of that museum asked his register to examine the "gift" and the investigation revealed the fake. Museum director Mark Tullos teamed up with Meininger to expose Landis and ultimately organized a gallery showing of his work entitled "Faux Real" with 60 of his creations and the priest outfit he used in some of his donations.

Landis, viewer and Tullos at
Gallery show "Faux Real."
The irony in all this is that Landis had not actually broken any laws despite his deceptive activities.
No legal action has come forth. However, the film does show him meeting people at his show who ask him, "With your talent why don't you create your own paintings? Sign them with your name?" In fact he did his own original paintings but, of course, they never seemed as important as the masters he copied.

If there ever was a question about an artists talent Landis would certainly be the person to question. Here was an immensely talented artist who while skilled may have lacked the very factor that makes a great artist - the ability to create his own vision; not only create his own vision but be able to put it on canvas in a style that is uniquely his own. Like he said earlier, the first one takes much time and thought, it becomes easier with each successive copy. The masters he copied already had done the heavy lifting, all he had to do was faithfully copy what they had already done.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

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