In The treachery of images (1928–9) (‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’) René Magritte encapsulates the vagaries of believing in the truth of images. It is, apparently, a lesson that the otherwise well-informed Philip Mould may have forgotten.
What are we to make of his latest press release in The Telegraph (13 October, 2015), and his Twitter asking if “fakes will become a thing of the past”? Further, is he saying don’t send in any more paintings to Fake and Fortune that might be fakes that could be genuine? I thought that was the whole point, or am I missing something?
Re-play the Chagall episode (February 2014, available on YouTube), the one where the painting meets a disastrous end in its proposed (and later) destruction in France, and it is clear from the beginning that “the team” then were rooting to prove the work on that program was original, not to erase art-world “jiggery-pokery” so an uncovered fake object could be tossed onto the bonfire of fictive vanities. “If we could get this through that would be thrilling,” says Mould in the beginning. And by that he means, if they can prove the “Chagall” work genuine, even though the owner paid a pittance in relative terms, if it did turn out to be original, that would be great. And let’s not forget, at the beginning of the programme Mould has confidence in its merits.
Little over a year later, however, and Mould has turned volte-face, supposedly now hell-bent on rooting out fakes, not uncovering masterpieces. In his recent article, Mould raises the issue of Beltracchi, who went to jail for forging signatures, and for fraud … not for painting in the manner of other artists. This is because the issue of what constitutes genuine art is generally a thorny one, particularly as Mould moves more into the contemporary art scene.
Undoubtedly there are those who wish to con his team, by sending him real fakes (forgive the contradiction in terms) that they are somehow hoping he will be taken in by. The Chagall fiasco must still burn, and the pain of knowing that the French destroyed an artwork his team were responsible for putting into their hands, remains a very public embarrassment. But why turn now to take the side of women like Chagall’s granddaughters who called for the mindless destruction of a work of art they didn’t own? Indeed, the painting they held up as the real one was ghastly and the one they said was fake had, to my mind, quite a distinctive charm.
Nevertheless, in the past Mould’s brand has attempted to highlight so many positive aspects of the potential for a harmonious collaboration of science with creativity, and with academia, in order to bring “object and authenticity” into line with “imagery and veracity”; in a sense, to give peace of mind to artistic enjoyment. And often he has been left banging his head on the brick wall of obstinate Establishment experts who like to believe they know it all, yet I’m sensing now he intends to give up.
What is art that doesn’t deceive? And what would the art world be without jiggery-pokery (see cottage door), without personality and performances? There’s the rub. Hopefully Mould’s new appointment as Chief of Fake Police, is blunted.