According to Vasari, the young Michelangelo often borrowed drawings of past masters, which he copied, returning his imitations to the owners and keeping originals. Half a millennium later, Andy Warhol made a game of "forging" the Mona Lisa, questioning the entire concept of originality.
Forged explores art forgery from ancient times to the present. In chapters combining lively biography with insightful art criticism, Jonathon Keats profiles individual art forgers and connects their stories to broader themes about the role of forgeries in society. From the Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto who faked a Raphael masterpiece at the request of his Medici patrons, to the Vermeer counterfeiter Han van Meegeren who duped the avaricious Hermann Göring, to the frustrated British artist Eric Hebborn, who began forging to expose the ignorance of experts, art forgers have challenged "legitimate" art in their own time, breaching accepted practices and upsetting the status quo. They have also provocatively confronted many of the present-day cultural anxieties that are major themes in the arts. Keats uncovers what forgeries--and our reactions to them--reveal about changing conceptions of creativity, identity, authorship, integrity, authenticity, success, and how we assign value to works of art. The book concludes by looking at how artists today have appropriated many aspects of forgery through such practices as street-art stenciling and share-and-share-alike licensing, and how these open-source "copyleft" strategies have the potential to make legitimate art meaningful again.
Forgery has been much discussed--and decried--as a crime. Forged is the first book to assess great forgeries as high art in their own right.
In his introduction, critic, journalist, and artist Keats (Virtual Worlds) asserts that fakes old forgeries and new works falsely attributed to old masters are "the great art of our age." While acknowledging that their artistic merit lies elsewhere than in the aesthetic, the author claims that "art forgeries achieve what legitimate art accomplishes when legitimate art is most effective," namely, causing us to confront troubling truths about "ourselves and our world." To substantiate this claim, Keats devotes the bulk of his book to portraits of six fakers throughout history, highlighting different questions that their work raises. But with the exception of the author's consideration of forger Eric Hebborn, who subverted the view of art history as a progressive continuum, these profiles don't do much to substantiate Keats's bold claims. He saves the heavy lifting for his conclusion, in which he considers contemporary approaches to art that riff on the forger's work, such as appropriation and street art. But as he decries most appropriation as being locked in a self-referential holding pattern, while declaring science the new frontier of boundary smashing, it's unclear why Keats has devoted most of his book to profiling artistic frauds.