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Art forgery

What constitutes art forgery? Does it even matter if an artwork is fake? In this video, Dr Donna Yates explores the curious world of art forgery.
Finally, we have an art forgery that’s not a crime. In other words, when no copyright has been violated, and when the forger does not deprive anyone of money. It’s not a crime for me to forge a Monet, and put it on my wall. Tell my friends it’s real. An example for non-criminal art forgery comes from the American art forger, Mark A. Landis, who over 20 years donated fake paintings to more than 50 small museums, while making up extensive stories as to how he came to possess the artworks. Donated is the key here. Landis did not take money for his forgeries. The museums accepted them as gifts. They weren’t defrauded. Why did Landis do it?
Well, mental illness was probably a factor. But he, himself, said he wanted small museums that had a little budget for buying art to have nice things. Art forgery at times is a component of art theft. In this scenario, a thief replaces a genuine art work with a fake with the hope of fooling viewers, at least for awhile. The thief’s goal is to evade detection long enough to get away. This appears to have been what happened with Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Pants, which was stolen from the Caracas, Venezuela Museum of Contemporary Art. The painting was replaced with a fake sometime around 2000. But everyone was fooled for two whole years. In hindsight, the copy wasn’t even very good.
It was made from acrylic paint and not oil with key details missing. But often we see what we want to see. Another very recent case of forgery, to abet theft, is that of Xiao Yuan, a librarian at the Guangzhou China Academy of Fine Arts. In 2015, it was exposed that for over two years Xiao replaced 143 paintings in the Academy’s collection with fakes, and sold the real ones for millions. His excuse– that so many other paintings in the Academy’s collection where fake, that he assumed everyone was doing this. But we must ask– does it matter if a piece of is fake?
If a fake Leonardo is just as beautiful as a real Leonardo, if it is so close that we can’t tell the difference, who cares? This is a fair argument. However studies have shown that when we are told that a piece of art might be fake, when there’s any doubt, we experience that art in a fundamentally different way. The difference is neurological. We use a different part of our brain while trying to look for signs of deception. That the possibility of art as being fake alters the intangible experience of that art and undermines the meaning of the piece.
Ultimately, forgeries move us away from what many of us seek from art– an authentic emotional experience resulting from a brush with authentic creative talent.

What constitutes art forgery? Why is it a crime to forge some paintings but not others? And most thought-provokingly, does it even matter if an artwork is fake? In this video, Dr Donna Yates explores the curious world of art forgery and how it can intersect with art theft.

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Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

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