Monday, August 18, 2014

Fakes! The overt and covert business of art forgery

There are about 5,000 artists in the Chinese city of Xiamen who paint oil paintings for hire full-time. They toil for dozens of companies whose business it is to supply both Chinese and world art markets with low-cost but pretty darn authentic looking reproductions of masterworks by famed artists ranging from Leonardo to Warhol. Monets are by far the most requested, but the offerings are manifold. As the samples below from "Refine Gallery" show, you can have pretty much anything your little heart desires. As Refined's sales pitch states: "Our best and professional artists paint all top quality paintings, the reproductions will resemble the original in the color, details and proportion nearly 90–95%." All for less than $100 too, usually—including shipping!
I would be the last to diss anyone for craving to have their favorite painting done up right and given pride of place in their own personal salon. Here's a little gem by Gaugin I'd love to have reproduced for my personal atelier.
M. Loulou. Oil on canvas, 1890. Barnes Foundation. What artwork would you have reproduced?
Chinese fakery is not relegated to exports. In one recent high-profile case, an entire museum of indigenous works there closed because all of its 40,000 pieces were reportedly faked. Does anyone else think that is hilarious/insane? But many Western art "experts" should be beaten about the head with their own auction catalogs as well. Some authorities estimate that up to half of all art in circulation posing as original is fake. Chinese immigrant artist Pei-Shen Qian blithely faked Rothkos, Pollocks, etc for years to earn extra cash—until he was caught up short by seeing one of his own phonies marketed in Manhattan for a price tag of $8.3 million. He asked for, and got, a raise—but it was nothing like the $33 million netted by his now-indicted, felonious employer.
Pei-Shen Qian's “Jackson Pollock,” which sold for $17 million.
Now for a palate cleanser. If the purveyors of the well-received exhibit "The Complete Frida" are to believed, there's a clear up side to all of this fakery. A touring show authorized by the artist's estate, it contains photographs of Kahlo and artifacts from her life as well all 123 of her paintings, reproduced to the highest standards by Chinese artists. Besides providing an overview of her career in one place (with painting that are never seen, such as those owned by Madonna), the show allows art lovers to view the paintings close to their original condition, with their hue and luminance intact. (Photo by Nickolas Muray, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives)
There's plenty of authenticated artwork (with impeccable provenances), in our many books on Gauguin, as well as other Impressionist and post-Impressionist masters. The same goes for Pollock and de Kooning!


  1. I was going to say that I'd rather have one of these Chinese imitations than a knockoff Gucci bag. But the idea of imitation art is so much like cloning a pet. I have to ask where is the thing I love? And could it still be found in a mass produced picture?

  2. For a terrific novel with a forged work of art at its center, see What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies.