What happens to art fakes?
March 22, 2021 6:18 PM   Subscribe

I just watched the Netflix documentary, "Made you look" and I'm wondering what happens to the forged paintings. They might be pastiche, but they're still beautiful and since I don't have a few million for an actual Rothko, I wouldn't kick a fake one out of bed!
posted by Ensign to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Piggybacking: How would one go about commissioning a high-quality reproduction? There are many sites claiming to offer them, but the proces are suspiciously low - hundreds of dollars rather than the thousands I'd expect for a nearly indistinguishable replica.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mr. BlahLaLa is a Hollywood prop man & set dresser. He has worked on many movies you've seen. He says when they create reproductions of existing works, first of all there are layers and layers of permissions required, and then not only do they have to be destroyed as soon as filming is complete, they're required to show proof of the destruction, like photos/footage of them being slashed into bits. Sometimes they also have to return the bits to the rights-holders as well.

(No idea what they did for that movie, though, since it's a documentary.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:11 PM on March 22, 2021 [10 favorites]

If you recall, one of the attorneys in the doc had one of them on his wall (it's right at the end). I assume the others similarly ended up as curiosities in the possession of various people involved.
posted by hoyland at 12:26 AM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What BlahLaLa says about Hollywood may be correct, but there is no issue, legal or otherwise, about copying an artwork - it's has been part of classical art training for centuries. There is no need to apply for permission - in many cases even popular 20th century artists do not have proactive estates which handle issues such as this. Legal issues arise when you intend to deceive, either by signing the work fraudulently or attempting to pass the work off as genuine when selling. Since (in the UK at least) everything in an auction is legally "sold as seen," it's easy to enter a fake work in there because all the onus is on the buyer to inspect the work and make his own mind up. For instance there is a high profile copyist operating in the UK called Susie Ray. I believe she came to promenance when she painted a Monet for Jeffrey Archer - he owned an original Monet which was one half of a pair and since the other was in a private collection he comissioned a copy to hang next to it. There are a few artists like this offering commissions in the UK, and of course an entire industry doing it in China. Several years back Dulwich Picture Gallery hung a Chinese copy in their gallery and invited visitors to spot the difference. The £70 copy looks markedly different when hanging next to the original, but still very competently handled in its own right.

Several years back I worked for a London auction house, and there was a section of our warehouse devoted to housing fakes which had been discovered and which the vendor had (unsurprisingly) failed to come back to collect. This section was dominated by two artists - Rodin (drawings) and Modigliani (drawings and paintings.) Works like this are retained because they are valuable study tools when it comes to spotting fakes in the future. I know the Met police also have an archive of fakes which they work with, and other institutions will too.

I was lucky enough to handle several Rothkos, and I would put him somewhere high up the list of most difficult to fake. The works have an ambience to the naked eye that is hard to copy, but close up the uniformity of the aged surface is something that is also very difficult to replicate. And those are wide, plain expanses of colour! There is no hiding place, especially when it comes to working with non-typical pigments and chemicals which may behave in unexpected ways long after drying.

tl:dr - forgeries are often retained by institutions/police for future study/comparison.
posted by mani at 2:11 AM on March 23, 2021 [19 favorites]

Best answer: A movie I worked on had a "fake/copy" produced. It's a documentary about a restoration gone wrong after somebody slashed a Barnett Newman painting. (yes it was sold through Knoedler in the 70's) We tried to get in touch with one of the painters who, allegedly, made Newman fakes in cooperation with Knoedler. He fled to China and it was way beyond our budget to go there.

Based on the extensive research of the original painting, we created a brief for a painter, who recreated the massive work. It took her three months. The recreation of the painting is an important part of the movie. The research for the briefing was produced by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. They were kind enough to acquire the fake after production, to use for future reference and to use for hands on practice.
posted by ouke at 3:22 AM on March 23, 2021

I think that in some cases, where a work is identified as a fake through the courts (a fraught process) the resolution has included the estate or foundation associated with the artist literally stamping the work as a fake. As the injured party they were not given the right to destroy the work, which was owned by a collector, but they were able to mark it in such a way as to hopefully preclude its resale.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:42 AM on March 23, 2021

You could get a local to take you on a virtual walking tour of one of China's replica art districts (Shenzhen has the famous Dafen village, but the article says Xiamen and Yiwu have districts too) to see if there's anything to your liking, or find a very talented replicator's shop who you could commission.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:33 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've worked with a few movies who wanted to make reproductions of things in the museum collection I work for. I stipulated that afterwards the pieces had to be destroyed, because the thought of them floating out there made me nervous, and also I had granted permission for one specific usage and wanted that to be kept to. But I've also allowed a small historic house museum to use replicas of some of our paintings by the painter who owned the house, because they like having them for context and aren't passing them off as the real thing. A previous museum I worked for investigated a purportedly Netherlandish altar triptych that turned out to have been made by a prolific forger. They let someone researching the forger write it up, but since then they have opted to simply keep it quietly in storage, make sure the documentation of it being a fake is kept in the files and the database, and just leave it be.
posted by PussKillian at 7:04 AM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Some become collectible. I don't remember who, but there was an English man responsible for hundreds of fakes, sold at high prices to museums. When he was discovered he became famous all over again. Maybe YouTube will have the documentary. I'm sure it was British.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:56 PM on March 23, 2021

Response by poster: Just came back to mark best answers here - thanks to everyone and especially answers with direct insight into the creation and destruction of these items. As I was looking again, I found this site: https://www.reproduction-gallery.com/. All the pieces carefully note that they are "inspired by" a well known artist.
posted by Ensign at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2021

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