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Wednesday, 02 September 2015


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> "the art world really needs more objects; there apparently aren't enough already to go around"

I wish someone would tell my potential-but-not-actual customers that.

So I guess that a certain blogger will soon get that printer going and objectify some of his work;~}

I'm confused. I thought a "forgery" was a copy of an existing work with the intent to pass off the copy as the original. In this case, the works seem to be originals which are misattributed to the wrong (that is, non-existent) artist.

These works may be part of a fraud, but they shouldn't be "forgeries", should they?

[Fair point. I confess I'm not conversant with all the usage niceties of the word "forgery," but dictionary.com has as its second definition, "the production of a spurious work that is claimed to be genuine, as a coin, a painting, or the like." I'd assume that making anything look like it's vintage when it isn't, and passing it off as such, especially when it's worth far more if you can pull off the deception, would satisfy the definition. But I might be wrong. --Mike]

There is a village in China where reproductions of famous paintings are mass produced.
The Dulwich Gallery in London had an exhibit where a reproduction made in China was hung next to an original painting. Most visitors couldn't tell the difference.

This is a very enjoyable story.

I like to divide the value of an artwork in three parts:
- does it appeal to me as is?
- is it scarce?
- has it been produced personally by a famous person?

Each of these three domains can attribute value. When you can answer positively all these questions, you are probably looking at something expensive. However I am mainly interested in the first type of value, hence I prefer buying a perfect reproduction of a painting I like, rather than paying for the other two attributes. But that's not how the world works. How does it work? If you are interested, I recommend watching my favourite psychologist Paul Bloom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWOfP-Lubuw

What do you think might happen to the value of an authentic work by Richard Prince if a hypothetical future court case were to rule it to be plagiarism? Actually we might already know, because this did happen in 2011 but was later overturned by a higher court. I wonder if owners of the works changed their opinions of the work after the first court decided it was plagiarism.

I hadn't heard of this before.Interesting. However, I don't think that this is legally criminal. For these objects to be fakes or forgeries requires that there be an original to fake or forge. Since Waldmann never existed, these are mis-attibuted, and that is not necessarily criminal. Whether this is fraud is a more difficult question. The real artist(s) can claim this is just a 'pen name', which is common practice, and the whole false background is just part of the process. Presumably, the art buyer is buying the object for its quality, although many collectors are looking for profit at least as much. Disclosure of the 'unreal' artist could either lower or raise the value of the paintings. I don't know what percentage of artwork is 'fake', as my budget doesn't include buying expensive artwork. I do agree with your conclusion that making 'art' objects is the way to participate, unless you or in the top half of the 1 percent.

But is it art?

Ha, love your post today, the story of the transformation of art to not art to art again. Some of us like to think that an art object speaks for itself but of course it does not, the story of the creator of the art is also part of the art.

If you really want to run down the art forgery rabbit hole, check out Rex Sorgatz: https://medium.com/message/this-is-not-a-vermeer-67b752b150c0

That's an excellent defence strategy. As a bonus, instead of going to jail they'll become eligible for funding through arts grants.

Maybe you could have a print sale.
Ctein could do the printing, and supply some random content.
I'd advise that each print have some fur added post printer.
You could pay off the new house, and build a gallery .
It's Dada, the nore useless the better....

This story reminds me of Orson Welles's "F for Fake" and Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop". Both movies expose the art market as a confidence racket, and in both movies you end up cheering for the frauds by the end.

"...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."

The sad thing is that there are many thousands of talented artists in the world who would dearly love to step up and supply works to the market, but who can't get galleries, museums, or the media to give them the time of day.

So what does that say about the art world's "distribution model?"

There are some notable fakes outside the visual arts that have survived on their own merits. The poems of Ossian come to mind, as do the pseudo-18th century works that Fritz Kreisler wrote and originally attributed to noted composers of that era.

Great post.
Established writers frequently use pseudonyms to distinguish among their works in different genres, for example Joyce Carol Oates has also written under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. Artists probably do the same thing, but your post suggests an evolution in approach: an artist, let’s call him XYZ, could say of work he’d produced but was no longer happy with, “Oh that’s not an XYZ, it’s a fake XYZ!” The work of XXX would persist unimpeded by the work XYZ no longer considered adequate. The collectors who bought this “inadequate” work might have something to say about this state of affairs, but XYZ could just paraphrase Oates — who, in a 1987 NYT article that revealed her pseudonymous undertaking, said, ''I wanted a fresh reading; I wanted to escape from my own identity” — by claiming, “Oh that was painted by another identity who can no longer be trusted to paint the truth.” (Which would then go on to be worth even more than “authentic” XYZs. One can imagine an endless tunnel of funhouse mirrors reflecting layers of fakeness and trueness, renunciation and authentication, leading ultimately not to “art” but, at least, to the consolation of artful money!)

What percentage of "art" is fake? If we limit the question to high-end contemporary art, the answer is 100 percent. The theme of "fake" or "forgery" is central to the 7+ figure art world.

I think Warhol kicked it off by not producing much of his own work. Now it's positively déclassé for a superstar artist to be physically involved in their material output.

Maybe it's a fad that will pass, and maybe there are hands-on artists who will enjoy great renown in the long term (when we are all dead). For the time being, you can't be an art-world superstar if your hands are dirty.

Forget fame and fortune, I think it would be sufficient just to have my name “In Quotes” when referring to my artwork.

Take this one step further and imagine the purpose of this art was to launder illegal profits and we have a picture of the international art market.

FWIW, I would hate for this story to serve as "proof" to all those who claim that art is a load of BS, wholly subjective, or consists of nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Based solely on Mike's summary of the issue (I don't have time to read more on this subject), there are very good OBJECTIVE reasons why people thought that "Karl Waldmann's" work was valuable before the fraud was disclosed, and why it is worth much less now, and it has nothing to do with the "artist's" prestige or gallery hype (except insofar as any gallerists were in on the fraud), namely: time, scarcity and authenticity.

I think it might be worthwhile to re-read a related post of mine from a few years ago. See here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2007/11/approaching-art.html

Back then, I wrote: "... if you saw a Masaccio painting without any identifying information, you would have no way of knowing whether it was painted by the innovator, the first man to paint using linear perspective, or by your next-door neighbor, who now takes linear perspective for granted, without even thinking about it."

That basic principal applies equally in this case. If "Karl Waldmann" was a Dadaist painter from the early 21st century -- from the period when Dadaism was developing -- then his Dadaist paintings from that period would be much more valuable than visually identical Dadaist paintings by Joe Smith painted in 2015. That is true wholly without regard to the actual content of the paintings.

The value of "Karl Waldmann's" works didn't lie solely in the fact that people liked what "his" paintings looked like (not that there would be anything wrong with it if that were the case). But if that WERE the case, then "his" paintings should not have declined in value after the fraud was exposed. Instead, the value of "his" paintings lay in the fact that there is a limited supply of paintings available from the artists who developed the Dadaist aesthetic about a century ago. Accordingly, the value of "his" paintings was largely due to scarcity and authenticity.

This is no different than it is for many other things. When stamps or documents are forged (e.g., the forged Texas Independence Documents), nobody claims that philatelists or historians are full of BS or that stamps should be valuable based solely on the pictures printed on them or that historical documents should be valuable based solely on the words written on them. They are valuable because they are old, rare and authentic.

In this case, a bunch of art historians were apparently hoodwinked. It can happen in the art world as much as any place else. There are lessons to be learned in terms of caution and diligence, but this does nothing to delegitimize the value of authentic artworks.

Best regards,

It does seem as though someone has tried to create a "Vivian Meier effect" in the world of paintings using original though mis-attributed pictures. Even without the context of time-and-place to legitimise the pieces of art the idea still worked! Perhaps the next thing will be that the painters come forwards and gain legitimacy, or perhaps the traffickers . . errm, art-dealers, have placed them under some wet concrete somewhere?

Art, not art, and art again.
"how everyone can win with nothing"

Wonderful article. Thanks for this.

Sounds like an excellent topic for a Clifford Irving book.
Dave already mentioned Orson Welles's "F for Fake" which is based on a book by Clifford Irving and was made during the same time as the events portrayed in the movie "hoax" where Clifford Irving was writing Howard Hughes' fake autobiography

From the Wikipedia entry on Clifford Irving

"On January 7, 1972, Hughes arranged a telephone conference with seven journalists who had known him years before. The journalists' end of the conversation was televised. Hughes claimed that he had never even met Irving. [12] [13] The journalists in turn claimed the voice on the phone was probably a fake.[14]"

I just visited the Karl Waldmann Museum and after clicking Biography up popped a message "Click to download the Karl Waldmann’s biography"

Considering the whole thing was made up by crooks it's possible the web site is a way to get to your computer.

Just saying.

Without giving anything away I know somebody who has been working on a project like that for decades building up a body of work and provenance In art libraries for a fictional artist that is a minor character in some pulp fiction from the 1950s.

Ah. Anyone around remember this story from 1984?
http://hoaxes.org/weblog/comments/fake_modigliani_for_sale --- the fake were considered "true" by a lot of experts even after the prankers admitted the thing and showed how they build them. There was a very big debate in Italy about what "art" means...

Somewhere Marcel Duchamp is laughing. Have you seen his Fountain?? I saw it during a traveling exhibition in L.A. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp)

Duchamp had an alter ego Rrose Sélavy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rrose_Sélavy He dressed in drag and was photographed by Man Ray, as Rrose, throughout the 1920s. Some art was attributed to Ms Sélavy. This was the whole point of Dada, an anti-art movement.

I'm waiting for the lost works of Ray Mann to be found 8-)

"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?"

Clearly, in the contemporary art world, it is critical to establish with authority the authenticity of the authentic fakes and separate them out from the less valuable fake fakes so that collectors acquire full value for their investments. No collector would want to suffer the embarrassment of purchasing and hanging what they thought was an authentic fake, only to discover — much to their horror — that they were holding a fake fake instead.

This story sort of creeps me out because my last name is Waldmann. So maybe I'm related to him, and I don't exist either.

Check out the documentary Art & Craft.

There's something funny going on here and I wonder if it's something to do with the visual arts rather than other arts such as the written ones.

How many books are written by non-existing authors? Stephen Bachman anyone, just to name a really obvious if perhaps not overly "high art" author. Bachman doesn't exist. It's a pen name/alias of Stephen King and there is a very long tradition of authors publishing books under fictitious names. It doesn't raise an eyebrow. Some authors have probably never published under their own names. Would the merit, artistic or otherwise, of their books be any different if they were published under their own name? Definitely not, but sales might be different and authors like other artists do need sales in order to live. Does being a good business person, which is what attracting more sales is about, make you any less an artist, or any better a one? No, but obviously this kind of thing seems to be more acceptable amongst writers than it is amongst painters of photographers.

As for the works themselves, "fake art"? I don't know what the term means. It seems to me that either a work is art or it isn't, in which case it may be craft or even rubbish or something else, but we seem to be a little on the reluctant side to say that anything is a work of art if the maker says it is and a lot more willing to say that it's the audience which makes that determination and that it can sometimes take time for it to be made.

I think a painting or photograph can be "fake" if it's being passed off as something it isn't, such as a work by another actual person but I don't think it can be classed as a fake if the maker releases it under an alias rather than under their own name and isn't trying to pass it off as the work of another real artist. A book like an autobiography or biography can be fake if the history it tells is not true to the facts, but perhaps it might be more appropriate to call such works fiction. I wouldn't, however, call an autobiography passed off as a biography because it was published under an alias as "fake" but I'm not certain what I'd call such a work apart from "autobiography passed off as biography". The content would be genuine and the quality of the work would be what it was, and that's a determination made by the audience.

There are some messy issues here but the word "fake" doesn't sit easily for me with a lot of the possibilities and there is no law that says that artists have to release their work under their real name. There's a long tradition of artists who haven't done so, and who aren't regarded as committing fraud or doing anything wrong by doing so, and the works so released stand and fall on their own merits.

I'd be happy to buy some of his artwork...with Monopoly money

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned Nat Tate.


I recently came across a wonderfully quotable line:

"I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid."

Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions.

I was looking through the upcoming Christie's 'Out of the ordinary' sale last night and was wondering which of the pieces were made for the market rather than being original.

Particularly this framed mosaic of NASA photographs of Copernicus crater: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/a-framed-photographic-mosaic-of-the-lunar-5921703-details.aspx?

The estimate of £30k - £50k implies it is an original NASA artefact, but Christie's don't give any details about it's provenance.

The implication is that these are contemporary prints made at Langley Research centre (LRC), but given that NASA images are public domain couldn't anyone have printed them?

I don't know much about art fakes but do have a passing familiarity with car fakes. Most are not intended to defraud people. Generally they are labeled replicas, recreations or tributes although there have been a few outright attempts at fraud.
It doesn't matter what the build sheet says it seems like every '69 Camaro that goes into the paint shop comes out a Z28.
Anyway here's a replica that has me wondering if I really need anything in my 401K if I can have this in my garage instead.

Well ok, but who owns the copyright?

How can people call it fake art? There are actual real canvasses right? That's real enough. Couldn't you just say that Karl Waldmann was a fictional character invented by someone else? I mean, someone painted these paintings, they didn't just appear. What if that person legally changed their name to Karl Waldmann, would he be real then?

What's the big deal? In the USA, corporations are people now, more or less, so what's the harm of having one more virtual painter, who was real enough, though not called Karl Waldmann at birth.

(Thanks Mike, perked up my Thursday.)

The people who invented Karl Waldmann, were brilliant. There were several art movements in the early 20th century, but they chose Dadaism.

"The term anti-art, a precursor to Dada, ... in addition to being anti-war, had political affinities with the radical left and was also anti-bourgeois." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada

If you wanted to rip-off the bourgeoisie, Dada was the correct art movement 8-) I'm sure that they were laughing all-the-way-to-the bank!

I can't seem to shake the nagging suspicion that, if someone is collecting art solely for reasons of its financial value, they're "doing it wrong".

I thought of something else. What if a virtual painter like Waldmann was reported as having died? Would the price of his/her paintings go up?

@Paul Glover: "I can't seem to shake the nagging suspicion that, if someone is collecting art solely for reasons of its financial value, they're "doing it wrong"."

You might be very surprised, Paul. Collecting photography as an investment is a bit of a spotty proposition with most of the best pieces already (relatively) highly valued. (I exclude works by names such as Sherman, Gursky and Burtynsky since they're actually players in contemporary art spheres, not truly photography.)

But collectors who approach the broader art world as a strategic investment opportunity, and have very large resources to invest, generally do very well. Art is just another "asset class" to these folks and as an asset class its potential returns shine far brighter than most others (equities, fixed income, real estate, etc.).

This post made me think of the fake French mathematician, Nicolas Bourbaki, who produced real math.

It seems like rarity is the issue.

Let's kickstart a camera that can only take a shot every few months based on a radioactive decay timer. If made in limited quantity and of a certain price, the images themselves would be of significant rarity as to make them naturally valuable, exponentially so in the hands of a real artist. I guess we could include a fixed, optically unique lens to ensure some validity to the resulting shots.

Mike if you haven't seen it yet then you must see "f for fake" by Orson Welles.

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