Forged antiquities and art history

An 8 foot tall forged terracotta statue, alleged to have been Etruscan. Displayed at the Met for decades. Notice it cannot bear its own weight.

I cannot speak to broader trends among art curators but I think it is a mistake to blame broad trends in the field of art history for the existence of forgeries. They have always been present, and likely always will be in some form. Failing to conduct a rigorous study of the history of an object should have course be criticized, but that kind of unfortunate mistake should be contrasted when an object which might have a good history free of the potential of looting. This happens for antiquities, works of art, and many other objects. Some forgeries are made maliciously to fool, other works of art which are inauthentic appear absent any wrongdoing of the creator.

In fact the shaming of institutions which takes place when a forgery or fake surfaces has a number of unfortunate consequences.

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Many Thanks to ARTHattack!

I want to give a big thank-you to the folks at the University of Guelph and Dr. Susan Douglas. Last Friday I was fortunate to have been asked to give a keynote address to the  ARTHattack! symposium at the University of Guelph. I’ve attended my share of conferences, and I can certainly say this was one of the very best, well run, with terrific papers. This year the topics included:

  • Lucina Pinto – Appearance Versus Reality in Jean Rhys’s After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie: Ekphrastic Encounters and Postcolonial Discourse 
  • Jennifer Graham A Life Seen of Obscenity: Robert Mapplethorpe and The Public’s Perception 
  • Jocelyn Burke Sublime (re)Visions Sarah Carter Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art: Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love 
  • Angel Callander Postmodern Pastiche: the Internet and Dadaism 
  • Vanessa Tignanelli Courtesans in Sixteenth-Century Venice: Exploring Ambiguity in Titian’s Female Portraits
And these were all undergraduates! They set a very high standard. 
Earlier this week I also got to sit in on Dr. Susan Douglas’ seminar course examining art crimes. There were some very thoughtful conversations, and a lot of interesting ideas to cover from the broad perspective of art history. Too often the cultural heritage debates are boiled down to museums v. archaeologists or source v. market. 
But art history gives us a number of useful tools for examining forged art, to take one example. How can art historians create an aura for objects with good histories, or modern recreations of ancient art? Grappling with these issues offers a fresh perspective, and it was refreshing to think about the wonderful tools art historians can bring in examining the abstract ideas connecting this material with culture. Thank you!
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com