Bible Verse of the Day

Friday, May 04, 2012

40 WINKS - The Story of The Honest Magician

- a story by RICARDO TORRES

A few days ago, a painting titled "The Scream" was sold at an auction for one hundred and twenty million dollars: the highest price ever paid for a composition on canvas, even though some of Picasso's works have come close in recent years.

There used to be a lot of discussion about the actual artistic value of the cubist and abstractionist movements: not anymore. Nobody really cares except, ironically, those who are willing to pay millions of dollars for a Pollock.

The following is a true story, more or less. It is also an involuntary compilation on my part: the lead character has more than just one prototype. I can't remember which one of them gave the interview, which (the interview) is the most important part of the story (at least to those who have ears (in the biblical sense) and have a soft spot for the dramatic).

Art forgery is nothing new. Those who want to know a thing or two about the nature of the business can watch the mildly entertaining film called "Incognito." It beats any other movie depicting a painter at work in that some benevolent soul took the trouble to teach the actor the basics; i.e. how to hold the brush and how to lay paint on canvas. Normally, actors squeeze the brush "artistically" between their thumb and index fingers, close to the bristles, dip it in paint once, and "tickle" the canvas, choosing a random spot on it and pretending to cover it with tiny strokes, one over another, forever, which is very annoying to watch. F-ng amateur hour. With some exceptions, you don't touch the same spot with your brush again until the paint is dry, unless you want your work to look as if it were created by an over-zealous five-year-old.

Anyway, there was this dude who lived in the Twentieth Century, and for all I know he may still be alive. He was Swiss. Or maybe he just owned real estate in Switzerland and spent his summers somewhere near Geneva; I can't remember; it doesn't matter. Let's just assume he was Swiss.

Unlike most of the Swiss folks, he was born wealthy. Early on he discovered he had a talent for drawing and painting. He took lessons and studied on his own, doing what any honest artist should do when he's just starting out: copying the originals of some old masters. It's the easiest thing in the world to arrange; most museums, in fact, are pretty hospitable like that: just make sure you notify the right people in the administration, explaining that you want to learn from the best; bring your easel; bring something to cover the floor under the easel; bring your canvas, paints, and brushes, and knock yourself out. Someone will even bring you coffee. You'll get more attention from tourists than the actual paintings in all the rooms combined. A man performing a meaningful task in public is a magnet for loafers. They love to ask cretinous questions and take pictures with their cheap cameras. But I digress.

This Swiss dude discovered he was a very able technician - among other things. He didn't merely copy a Hals or a Goya: he copied them very, very precisely. It came naturally to him.

After painting a few pictures of his own and reading some negative reviews about them, he decided he'd show that the critics were idiots. This is interesting, and goes a long way to explain a number of things; but hardly the important part. I'll tell you when the important part comes on. But read on, or you won't "get it."

He locked himself up in his studio and painted a whole bunch of things after the manner of Titian, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Lebrun, and some of the other usual suspects. He did a few Turners, I think; and a few impressionists: Monet, Manet, Renoir, and so forth. And then a few cubists and abstractionists: Kandinsky, Picasso, Chagall, etc.

No, he didn't copy any of the existing works. He created NEW Rembrandts and NEW Manets. Because he was wealthy, he was able to pose as a collector, as well as a hunter for "lost" or "hitherto unknown" masterpieces. He aged his canvases accordingly, and did many other things to them - I'm not going to bore you with the details. He started selling them - to private citizens, and then to museums. He made a lot of money. I mean, A LOT of money. Really. Museums and auctions hired well-known experts who established beyond all doubt the authenticity of each canvas. There was a legend attached to each work. "This one languished in the cellar of a Sicilian farmer for three centuries," etc.

The money isn't important. The legends aren't very important either.

He got carried away; he got careless; reckless; he erred, screwed up a deal, was rude to the wrong person at the wrong moment; someone decided to investigate; evidence began to mount, and the Swiss dude was arrested.
As expected, many museums that had bought "Rembrandts" and "Renoirs" from him refused to admit it, since admitting they had paid a few million bucks for a fake would reflect badly on them and the experts they employed and paid a lot of money to. This isn't very important either.

They didn't put him away for many years. He got off lightly (sort of), mostly because many of those who could testify (his former clients, purchasers of his product) refused to do so. Nobody wants to look like a moron.

Now comes the important part: the interview.

It was a fluke: a stroke of genius. The reporter who visited the Swiss dude at the Swiss dude's castle after the trial was imaginative enough to ask just the right questions; and got honest replies.

The first question was:

How long did it normally take you to do a "new" Hals or Rembrandt?

The answer: It varied. You have to factor in the size of the painting and the amount of detail. Anywhere from four months to a year.

And the next question was:

And a "new" Picasso or Chagall?

And the answer was:

About forty minutes...

”Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” - Vince Lombard