Given the range of names appearing in Artlyst’s forged artist’s countdown, you would be forgiven for thinking that the measure of an artist who has finally ‘made it’ is one who has been copied and copied by stealth and deceit for monetary gain. The driving influence behind why forgeries are made exists outside the sphere of any aesthetic concerns; the main purpose boils down to – predictably, almost boringly – to create a good return, to line one’s pockets using the intellectual property of others, and, in such cases of Brian Ramnarine who acquired a handy bronze mould to duplicate his own readily ‘authentic’ Jasper Johns, the working methods also.
The artists targeted, especially those from the latter half of the twentieth century onwards, according to a simple equation of max return potential, tempered by the likelihood of being taken for real: hence why trying to make a Vermeer now would be hampered by reams of diligent art history, making detective work child’s play. The idea of artistic merit doesn’t feature at all on the landscape (pun absolutely intended), hence the commercial behemoth that is Damien Hirst enterprises is ripe for copying and capitalising on his overinflated prices and the buffoonery of collectors willing to pay for ownership.
A criticism long levelled at contemporary art is that statement hovering on many peoples’ lips, whether it spills forth or not: “My (insert age) year old could have done that”. To which the reply is “yes but they didn’t”. Art is now in the age of ideas over execution, combined with market values which will make or break an artist’s career. The fundamental moral error of forgery now lies now not just in the deceit – which can ruin the integrity of a trading business long built on trust and diligence – but in the stealing of ideas, snatching intellectual ownership too.
It is interesting that marketable art is now so rooted in concepts over execution that a spot painting intellectually owned by Damien Hirst can be executed by his children, or by a forger equally as easily. It’s more a brand than an artwork, just like knock off Luis Vuitton handbags. Jeff Koons was at least canny enough to make his creations (brand) sufficiently skilled and technologically difficult to make that forgery is too easily detected and simply not worth the effort.
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