Paris museum’s fakes exhibition condemned for ‘vampire’ plagiarism
A major Paris exhibition featuring forgeries and copies of works by Picasso, Matisse and other 20th century masters has been condemned by the artists’ heirs as “vampire” plagiarism that will encourage counterfeiting.
By Henry Samuel in Paris
Published: 7:00AM BST 24 Apr 2010
‘We were very surprised by the tone of this exhibition and let the museum director know,’ said a spokesman for the Picasso estate Photo: PA
“Second Hand” aims to “explore an issue inherent to the history of art: the copy as the basis of artistic apprenticeship and as a constant of artistic creation”, according to the museum of modern art in Paris.
The show offers what it dubs “look-alike” works claiming to be by Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti Mondrian and Modigliani, among others.
The forgeries are hung between original paintings in the museum’s permanent collection. Thus, an original Picasso is confronted with “NOT Picasso”, by Mike Bidlo, an American “appropriation” artist, who has painted a near-exact replica of the cubist master’s “Girl with a Cock”, 1938.
What appears to be a perfect “Modigliani” is in fact a work by Elmyr de Hory, one of the greatest forgers of the twentieth century who is immortalised in the Orson Welles’ film F for Fake.
But while the prospect of a forgery usually strikes fear in the hearts of museum workers, Fabrice Hergott, director of the museum of modern art, relishes the challenge presented in “Second Hand”. He warned: “this hanging may disorient those who expect to see only ‘real’ Picassos and Matisses rather than their avatars.”
Heirs of the original artists disagreed.
Véronique Wiesinger, head of the Giacometti Foundation, condemned the show as a glorification of plagiarism.
“Counterfeiting has close links with organised crime,” she told the newspaper Libération.
“If all it takes for forgers to make a mockery of the law is to declare themselves ‘artists’ and sell their pale imitations, what heritage are we leaving future generations?,”
The so-called “deconsecration of the original”, she added, was in fact a smokescreen “to hide the desire to cash in on the back of real artists.
“These (counterfeiters) are vampires,” she said.
A spokesman for Claude Picasso, the artist’s son, said he was “particularly concerned by the lack of warnings and explanations concerning the harmful effects of forgeries in an age when these are invading the market and in which the artists’s rights are threatened by the internet”.
“We were very surprised by the tone of this exhibition and let the museum director know,” said a spokesman for the Picasso estate.
Forgeries are a serious issue for museums and art collectors, and academics have made – and lost – reputations on authenticating paintings.
John Myatt, a British artist and prolific forger, painted more than 200 fake masterpieces in the 1980s and 1990s, which his associate, John Drew, sold through the world’s top auction houses.
He eventually admitted he created the paintings – which were offered up for hundreds of thousands of pounds – using emulsion paint and K-Y Jelly. Police recovered around 80 of his works but the remainder are still at large.
He is now a successful artist in his own rightselling what he calls “genuine fakes” for up to £45,000 a shot.
Still, the museum’s director brushed aside criticism, saying that if the “disturbance” his exhibition has caused “raises questions about the notions of originality and masterpiece, then the museum will have fulfilled one of its missions: to foster critical thinking”.