Special Projects > Love and Reproduction

Object #3: LOVE

Stop! This blog entry will make much more sense if you have received and seen mail art object #3.

Some Thoughts on Art Forgery:

Because I am not really into entertainment built on the bodies of real live murdered ladies (yes, I know that is rich coming from someone who watches tons of movies about [fictional] stabbing but whatever), and I have an MBA, my true crime tastes tend to lean towards the money side of things. Most of our graduate accounting classes consisted of reading cases about financial scandals and learning how not to be bad. (The popular perception of MBAs being amoral assholes is not good for the MBA industrial complex, so they spend a rather significant amount of time trying to convince students not to send out fraudulent annual reports, etc.) There are a lot of ways to think about art forgery and the philosophical ramifications of unsanctioned copies, but I am always drawn back to the financial aspects. Why does the market tolerate fraud? The people who buy art do not like this practice, but galleries and institutions unofficially incentivize it. Let’s break it down!

Okay, so rich people buy art for a lot of reasons. I’m sure some of them love art and want it around them just like everybody else. But one reason people invest in it is that at a certain point, people have so much money, they gotta find somewhere to park it. You don’t just put your bazillion dollars in a money market account and call it a day. Some money does get invested, but the market is historically volatile and you don’t want to put all your dough there. You also can’t just put it all in a savings account, because the FDIC limits how much they will insure if the bank fails. It’s only $250,000 per account. There’s also a lot of issues with taxes and stuff so people need to put their money somewhere smart, and that somewhere is often in physical assets. And one particularly prestigious asset is art. At the highest level, the art market is an artificially propped-up affair, where the prices are what they are because everyone agrees that’s what they are. Art is not scarce. There is a ton of cool stuff constantly being made by lots of cool people; you can get something interesting at almost any price point. But, the art that the market says is worth the big bucks? Well, that’s another matter. Because there is no real Platonic ideal of what a great piece of art is, the consensus of the market is the judge. (And this is where I note that markets are made up of people; they are nothing but groups of people.) Because the market cannot agree on what “good” is, they use pedigree instead. If you go to certain schools, get shown in specific galleries, and are willing to follow the rules of what constitutes a salable item, then you might be eligible to participate in the contemporary art market. This creates a false sense of scarcity in newer works. Older art actually is somewhat scarce because there are no more Vermeers being painted. (Well, there are, just not by Vermeer.)

Unfortunately, the benefit of scarcity becomes a liability, because there is only so much art that’s worth these inflated prices. And wherever money can be made but isn’t, somebody is going to step in and make it: in this case forgers and corrupt dealers. There are a lot of conflicting numbers, but the amount of fake older paintings in institutions and galleries is supposed to be really high. (Some say 50%, but that seems a lot to me.) Museum people sometimes steal paintings and replace them, other times they are gifted fraudulent work or unknowingly buy fakes, and sometimes they talk themselves into believing what they want. Dealers will often sell work with shady provenance because there just isn’t enough “important” art to go around, and they have to have something to sell. Art forgery is often romanticized and considered a “gentleman’s crime,” and I think people tend to downplay it because the experts who were fooled into buying fraudulent art don’t want to look like idiots. Law enforcement and the defrauded buyers care, but the art market as a whole seems to look the other way as often as not because there is A TON of money exchanging hands.

Art forgery tends to come in two flavors, direct copies and “newly discovered” works. Whenever I hear about some new pieces from an in-demand artist, I always wonder if they are real. Case in point, the new Hilma af Klint watercolors being offered up for sale right now. I am sure these are the real deal; David Zwirner is a respected gallery and there is probably provenance for days on these things. However, they are exactly the kind of work that could be created to bring in a ton of cash. Up until now, her work has rarely been for sale because most of it is owned by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm. No one can just go out and buy a couple of af Klints for the portfolio; this is a genuine case of scarcity. (Even the current offerings are only offered up to institutional buyers.) Watercolors are also notoriously difficult to fake because of the lack of control in how the paint pools, but these are copies of her Tree of Knowledge paintings that she supposedly made for her spiritual mentor, so they don’t have to be exact replicas, nor would a forger have to invent a new composition in a case like this. Oh man, this would be a perfect forgery idea. But I’m sure they are real. I do guarantee that someone will try something like this however if they haven’t already. Af Klint is hot, and the market isn’t going to let money just sit on the table.

There are a lot of issues surrounding art forgery that I did not address. It’s a form of copying, even if just a style. Is there a real metaphysical difference between a painting and its exact copy? If it contains the same information, why is it not the same thing? Is a new painting done in the style of Vermeer as sublime as an actual Vermeer if you cannot tell the difference? If the hand of the artist makes something authentic, what do we do with the information that a lot of what we call “masterpieces” were created in workshops where many hands contributed to their making? What does original even mean anyway?

Object Notes:

Your 100% authentic Robert Indiana LOVE print is a black screenprint on white Stonehenge paper. Technically, because I did number it and sign with his name, it could be considered a forgery, so I have done a few things to make sure it would never be mistaken for his work. (Indiana and his estate have had to deal with A LOT of forgery and forgery-related situations over the years, and I don't wanna add to the problem.)

I did not even try to match his signature. Mine is not even close.
There is a little blip in the 'L'. I had a little hole in the screen that somehow just managed to line up with the edge. I mostly fixed it with a piece of tape. It would have been super simple to just reburn the screen, but I ended up keeping it since no real Robert Indiana screenprint would have an error like that.
On the "authentication" sheet, the date of printing is after Indiana's death.
I did not try to match the size of any recognized print.

This is one of the few times I have chosen to reference a piece of art that I myself do not particularly love. It's okay; I'm not really into Pop Art, so it doesn't really resonate that much with me. (Plus, my research indicates he might not have been a great guy.) BUT, this is Love and Reproduction, and LOVE says it all. And this particular design was super easy to copy. I just took a photo off the internets, resized it in Photoshop, and burnt a screen. Easy Peasy.

The authentication sheet and invitation were created in Illustrator and printed on my toner printer. I uh obviously am not a graphic designer.

Research Notes:

Here are some books, articles, and videos I found especially helpful this month. (I read/watched a ton of stuff, but not all of it was something I feel the need to pass on.)

The Art of the Con by Anthony Amore

After Art by David Joselit



What is Wrong With a Forgery by Alfred Lessing

The Game of Duplicity by Thomas P. F. Hoving

The Stylistic Detection of Forgeries by Theodore Rousseau

60 Minutes: The Gentle Art of Forgery (YouTube)

The Savior for Sale (Film)

Object 3: LOVE Blog Entry

This blog entry contains an essay on art forgery and descriptions of how I made the LOVE print, authenticity sheet, and invitation.