In this recent piece on former millionaire Wolfgang Beltracchis, an expert painter who also used to be a professional painting forger (until he got caught and sent to prison), an interesting but latent question was raised about the role of authenticity and the significance of authorship today. Namely, in what way does authenticity exist today, and how do we value something with relation to what we perceive to be it’s origins?
Beltracchis’ paintings have fake German labels, they lab test paint pigments to test for hues that were available at the times the original artists were painting, and took staged archival photos on pre-war photo paper of the paintings hanging in an old house. He and his wife even tour old flea markets to find canvases from the early 1900-1910 canvases on which to paint. He was good. He didn’t copy actual paintings, he would paint a painting a given painter, say Max Ernst, would paint if they had the time and the interest to do so. His paintings went for millions and he traveled the globe in style when he wasn’t in his vacation homes (vineyard included) in Germany or France. In short he was a singularly gifted painter, and an even greater vacationer.
“… And no one disputes that they are awfully good. Beautiful. This $7 million dollar fake Max Ernst is being shipped back to New York. Its owner decided to keep it even after it had been exposed as a fake. He said it’s one of the best Max Ernsts he’s ever seen.” (emphasis mine)
Potential Max Ernst by Beltracchis
Can you forge a piece of architecture like you can forge a painting? If the distinction between architecture and art is that the former has a use, function, or program, can any piece of architecture ever truly be a copy? Do we care if something was created by an individual genius, or by a group of people? (Disabusion Alert: All architecture in the US today is an outgrowth collaboration.) No we care if it is good, useful, or beautiful.
Since we don’t have the ability to disguise a work of architecture behind the guise of an individual it is in a way less prone to the forgeries mentioned in the article above. But architecture is more public than any form of art, and has the most public subject. So in a way it is more prone to copies being made than artwork.
So why do you think the buildings you live and work in look or work the way they do? What is the “titanium white” that distinguishes it from the “authentic” work that came before? And the most interesting question of them all – is it better with the titanium white than without it?