A museum asks the audience to find a forgery

"Great Republic" by James E. Buttersworth ~1850
“Great Republic” by James E. Buttersworth ~1850

The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News Virginia has crassly bowed to the need for more visitors and made the decision to exhibit a number of works by James E. Buttersworth alongside a forgery of his work by Ken Perenyi. The attraction with forged art knows no bounds it seems. How would the artist feel to know that decades later his work was being displayed alongside the work of a criminal:

A small Buttersworth in good condition might sell for $30,000, said Alan Granby, who, with Janice Hyland, runs Hyland Granby Antiques in Hyannis Port, Mass, which usually has several Buttersworths for sale. The much rarer large paintings, especially those depicting America’s Cup races, can go for more than $1 million. Mr. Perenyi said that his prices range from $5,000 to $150,000.

The museum has made a point of not mentioning Mr. Perenyi, who said he did not know until a reporter approached him that his work was in its current show. “We did not want to lend any legitimacy to the forger or be seen as promoting him in any way,” Mr. Forbes said.

On entering the exhibition, visitors approach a high-resolution digital image of “Magic and Gracie off Castle Garden,” an 1871 Butterworth that shows two yachts, sails taut in the wind, racing neck and neck in New York Harbor. On a nearby television screen, a photo of Buttersworth pops up, and “hot spots,” activated with the touch of a finger, explain the fine points: the signature, size, background features, sky and weather, seas and sea gulls, composition and meticulous detailing of the ships.

Visitors, prompted by clues in the wall texts, then try to identify the lone forgery. At two voting booths, they can test their suspicions by entering the number of the suspected forgery on touch screens that tell them whether they are right or wrong and offer to give them the correct answer. Then the honor system applies. Those in the know are asked not to give away the secret.

William Grimes, To Reel In Crowds, a Museum Is Showing a Fake Painting, The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2014.

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