To catch a forger

posted by – 02/21/14 @ 1:53pm

I stumbled across an interesting article about one Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who forged pieces by over fifty different artists.  He was really good at it too; he managed to do it for thirty-five years before getting caught and make millions off of sales.  When I think of forging artwork, I usually think about someone nabbing a painting, recreating it in a closet, and returning the fake to the original owner, keeping the original to sell at an auction a few years later.

That wasn’t the case for Beltracchi.  His process was interesting in that he studies the artist–his style, motifs, and muses– and creates the unpainted works that he would have expected old master artists to have created.  He essentially tried to fill in the gaps in previous artists’ careers.  I think that to be able to embody the artistic style and expression of over fifty different artists well enough to create original works that are true enough to fool world experts in the art world is quite the accomplishment.  While in the art world, that’s frowned upon, I can think of a couple practical applications for this type of talent.  Reconstructing and simulating ancient cities from the ruins that are left behind and determining new archaeological digging sites all would make good use of the ability to embody the thoughts and motivations of another person.  In the math and science world, we call that interpolation, constructing new data based on already existing data surrounding a gap.

Picasso once said, “If the counterfeit were a good one, I should be delighted.  I’d sit down straight away and sign it.”  Emulation is one of the greatest forms of flattery, and Beltracchi went beyond copying works to actually copying artists.  I think that’s great.  Novels have been written about the Mona Lisa attempting to fill in the gaps about its mysteries; everyone is looking for answers to these questions that perhaps don’t even have real answers.  Perhaps its a good thing that there is someone so bold as to fill in these gaps with something that people want to believe, rather than have another text speculating on the meaning of a body of art.

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