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Fakes and forgeries – Art group introduces new lecture series

Art group introduces new lecture series

By Ryan Gibbs  – 2015-05-28 / News

Alleged Matt hias Grunewald Painting of St. Catherine

A new lecture series will kick off next week with a presentation on fakes and forgeries from a local art historian.Rick Meli will present his lecture on Thursday, June 4, at 6 p.m. at the library. It’s the first in the “Art Speaks” series, a free sixpart program presented by the Conanicut Island Art Association. A demonstration will reinforce each lecture. According to Elaine Porter, the demo portion was added because of the public’s interest in the artistic process.

“It’s always magical to watch an artist work and watch a picture develop right in front of your eyes,” said Porter, who is president of the association. “It’s an educational series, so the demonstration aspect of it is very important.”

Meli’s lecture will tell the story of Christian Goller, a German art restorer whose reported forgery of a Matthias Grunewald painting of St. Catherine was sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art for $1 million. Meli will explain how Goller created the painting, and how he was able to “get away” with selling it to a prestigious museum.

“He’s an art restorer who paints in the style of the masters,” said Meli. “I’ll explain how he put it together and the story behind it.”

According to Meli, Goller is being investigated for at least 40 different art forgeries. Also, he says, it’s not that rare of an occurrence: Forgery is prevalent in the art world.

“Museums, collections and galleries are constantly bringing in experts,” said Meli. Following careful inspections, the authenticity of some expensive paintings are called into question. “(The museums are) finding out that they’re actually reproductions, fakes or copies.”

Despite the deception, Goller’s alleged forgery continues to hang in the museum’s gallery. However, it has been labeled as an imitation.

Meli said another artist has made a living by selling copies that he labels as imitations. “If you’d like to have a Picasso or a Van Gogh in your house, this person will paint them. I guess people want to own what looks like an original as opposed to something that’s been silk­screened onto a canvas.”

Meli, who lives in Narragansett, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning his bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Rhode Island. He then received a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is a pastel artist, and spent time as an adjunct instructor at Springfield College and URI. He recently won second honorable mention at the “Different Strokes” art exhibition at Town Hall.

The lecture will be accompanied by copies of famous paintings created by local artists, including Meli and Porter. The work was painted for an exhibit at the Spring Bull Gallery in Newport earlier this year. Meli will also explain the difference between their paintings, which are labeled as copies, and forgeries.

The funding for “Art Speaks” came from a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. Porter said it was the first time the association had requested money. Since the foundation doesn’t normally accept an organization’s first grant request, Porter says, she was pleasantly surprised by the news.

Porter hopes the series will appeal to members of the town’s vibrant artistic community.

“We have a highly educated population here,” she said. “I’m sure they’re going to find the subject matter that we’re presenting very interesting and stimulating.”

As for Meli, he says the subject of forgeries is intriguing.

“I think people are interested in the process of how one goes about creating something that can be mistaken for an original from the Renaissance,” he said.

According to Meli, he’s already heard from people who plan to attend his lecture. “It’s going to be a fun time,” he said.

The second lecture will feature Bristol artist Kendra Ferrera, a colored-pencil artist who juried the most recent Town Hall show. As for the other four lectures, it’s still up in the air. Porter says the association has several different speakers in mine.

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