Friday, October 2, 2015

Book review: The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers by Noah Charney

I heard this author on NPR and thought the book sounded interesting, but I had no idea until I got it in my hands how impressive the production of the book is. The book has color images throughout, therefore the entire book is printed on bright white, heavy-stock paper (it weighs a ton). And there are blue pages tipped in at the beginning of each section (and they are different shades of blue.) It really is a well-designed book that must have cost the publisher a fortune, showing how much they believe in the book.

The images are key. It brings so much to the book when we can look at a painting and a fake of it side-by-side. I didn't as much care about the occasional images of some of the forgers, but the artworks they created are impressive, even (or especially) the fakes. I liked how the book was organized around motivations instead of around types of artwork or types of forgeries. Looking at the personalities behind the forgers brought a new level of fascination. I've read about a couple of these forgers in the past like in Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo but I never understood why they did it, aside from the money. It's interesting that money is often a secondary reason. It's much more common that the forgers are failed artists who want to embarrass the art world or prove the experts who rejected them wrong. And for that to truly work, they have to be caught. Their forgeries have to be exposed, or no one will be embarrassed, no one will be proven wrong.

The breadth of work some of these forgers create is astonishing. Some can replicate the style of hundreds of artists across centuries and genres. It does seem as if they are very talented and it does make you wonder about why some people succeed and others fail. Are they truly missing that extra something, that passion, that frisse? Or are they only successful when copying someone else who was honestly inspired? It's also interesting to look at times when the art world really shouldn't have been fooled by forgers obviously using the wrong media, and yet it was overlooked.

If you have any interest in the art world, this book is a must-read. Exhaustively researched, but accessibly written, this book was fascinating and hard to put down.

I checked this book out of the library.

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