Pi Attitude Zone: Material Status

Fake Art And Real Money

What’s the difference between a great work of art and a clever fake that imitates it?  Ostensibly, what separates the two is a great deal of money, and the likelihood of a harsh punishment (if he or she is found out) for the forger who produced the phony version.

But what if the difference is more subtle than that, and more troubling?  Could it be that the quality that underpins the huge prices commanded by art masterpieces is not their intrinsic beauty, but simply their authenticity?  Is the art market really about artistic appreciation, or the appreciation (in both senses) of market values?

Collectors and curators of great art pretend that the artists who produce them are inimitable.  The idea that an artwork is unique and impossible to copy with exactitude is often the justification for the stratospheric price it can command.  But doesn’t that mean that a fake version would always be easy to identify?  Enough art experts have been taken in over the years to know that that isn’t true.  Some fakes can be effectively identical to the originals, or copy the style of an artist so exactly that the difference is undetectable.

Which leaves collectors, buyers, experts and galleries with a queasy feeling they would probably prefer not to talk about.  If the only reason to hang an oil painting on your wall was its beauty, it wouldn’t matter in the slightest if the image was an authentic original or a fake.  Yet every time a fake is exposed, the market erupts in fury.  Hmmm... There is clearly more going on here than a simple “quest for artistic perfection”.

Logic forces us to conclude that beauty alone is not the determining factor in establishing the price of an artistic masterwork.  Owning these miraculous objects is probably less a comment on your taste than on your wealth. The piece is valuable not in itself, but only to the extent that other people can’t own it, because it’s yours.   This provokes your rivals to want to buy it off you, thus driving the price still higher.  The same thing can happen with rare wines and limited-edition sports cars.  Such goods invert the normal laws of economics – they eventually just cost a lot because they cost a lot, and for no other reason.

And that is why clever forgers get everyone so upset.  By duplicating ‘artistic perfection’, they undermine the whole system of values that underpins the art market, and call massive investments into question.

Pi asks:  does that make faking art ...an art?

Zone: Material Status Country: Europe Product –