Let's say you were a nonexistent person. But what if you used existence strategies? Would that be enough to sort of make up for your nonexistence, in a sense?
You'll notice certain recursive qualities in the above question.
It has been an utter delight to follow the case of one Karl Waldmann, who doesn't exist. That hasn't stopped Waldmann, who is deceased but never lived, from not making piles of money with artwork he didn't create.
It seems Waldmann is, or was, a previously unknown Dada artist from Vienna whose works were discovered by a French journalist at a Polish flea market in Berlin.
The charming part of the story is how the art world is responding to the emerging evidence that Waldmann actually never existed and that his works are forgeries, consigned for sale across Europe by a gang of criminals.
Waldmann's Belgian gallerist, for instance, has responded by offering authentication services. I love this, but I'm unclear...is he saying that some of the works are fakes but not all of them, or is he authenticating the real fakes from fake fakes? I hope it's the latter. Because we must put our collective foot down about people faking fakes. There should be only one authentic fictitious Karl Waldmann.
The real gem comes from an institution, no less, the Kunsthaus Dresden, where Waldmann's work has been shown. The institution admitted to being troubled by the possible nonexistence of Waldmann, but added, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, said that "it's also possible that it is a contemporary art project using fictional strategies."
I totally love that. Read it again and think about it, and watch your own head explode.
Furthermore, I'll go them one better. I think the criminals ought to immediately adopt this as their defense. That is, they should immediately claim that they are not creating forgeries for purposes of fraud, but that they are creating real fake art because the whole project is itself a contemporary art project meant as a subtle commentary on the state of the art market and the greed and willing gullibility of its various factotums and middlepersons.
Because then, watch what happens to the art itself—it passes from state to state to state like water going from solid to liquid to gas. It is art, then it becomes not-art, then it becomes art again. First it is authentic historical Dadist work by a guy nobody happens to know much about called Karl Waldmann; then it becomes fraudulent fake art cynically planted by criminals; then it becomes one of the cleverest contemporary art projects recently conceived—new work that convinced people it was old art, but only to make a point.
In that final state, if you think about it, everyone can be happy. The people who bought the art because they liked it can continue liking it; the former "criminals" can be celebrated for their daring, cutting-edge two-thousand-teens art project, which exactly mimicked forgery but wasn't; and everyone who has gained either money or artworks can keep their money and artworks without having to admit either that they were taken advantage of or that they committed a crime or an unsavory act, as the case may be. The police need not get involved. (I've failed to mention that the police are in fact involved.) Works all around, seems to me.
Fakes, forgeries and misattributions
If I can get serious for a moment—unless it's just way too late for that—I might point out that a large percentage of the art being traded as authentic on world markets probably isn't real. The Fine Arts Experts Institute of Geneva, Switzerland, analyzes artworks for authenticity using scientific methods. They charge healthy fees for doing so, and the purpose is to add value to works that stand up to their scrutiny; it's a sort of appraisal service. The head of FAEI, Yann Walther, says of the idea that 50% of the art in circulation on the world art market is fake or misattributed "is, if anything, an underestimate."
The reason for this is simple: the market needs objects. There's a strong demand for art and strong incentives on the part of the market to satisfy that demand. Even granting that Karl Waldmann is imaginary and "his" work the product of forgers, it would be nice if he were real; the market could use more attractive Dadaist works. There's nothing wrong with the impulses. Collectors would love to have the works and art dealers would love to provide them.
That certainly doesn't excuse criminal malfeasance, on any level. But it's interesting to me to imagine the feelings such work perhaps evokes on the part of hypothetical owners. What if you love to look at the piece? You would get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment out of it. Then, if you found it was a forgery and you'd been defrauded, your feelings would be changed radically and fundamentally—the meaning of the work would now be that you were played for a chump, robbed and violated, and the work itself, you might feel, was interwoven in that betrayal—how could you now look at it and not feel bad? And yet the object itself would not have changed at all.
No matter what percentage of the art that's "out there" in the world is fake—50%, 70% (which seems to be the high end of the estimates), or even just 20% or 10% (numbers everyone seems to agree are too low)...whatever it is, it means that there are a large number of people out there who are fooling themselves. They own artworks that presumably please them, that they think are valuable, and that provide some of the gratifications and consolations of art...but only because of what they think they know about it. If they found out that what they know isn't true, their feelings would change dramatically.
I only have one conclusion here, and it's very mundane. And that is, if you want to play in the art world, you need to create objects. Objects are what the market revolves around. Objects are what are bought and sold. And the good news is, the art world really needs more objects; there apparently aren't enough already to go around. The door is open for you to step up and try to provide some of what's needed.
(Thanks to artnet news)
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Jon Orloff: "The institution got it wrong. It's not a contemporary art project using fictional strategies. It's really a fictional art project using contemporary strategies."