'Spot the Fake' at Dulwich picture gallery

January 12 2015

Video: Dulwich Art Gallery

At the Dulwich Picture Gallery, 'conceptual artist' Doug Fishbone has come up with a new display, called 'Made in China'. For £120, the Gallery commissioned a copy of one of their permanent collection from an artists' workshop in China - and swapped it for the original, even hanging the copy in the original frame. Visitors have to see if they can spot the interloper. Says Dulwich senior curator Dr Xavier Bray (in The Guardian):

“The replica is excellent quality, and when it arrived we were delighted with it - but when I put the two side by side, it was a very interesting experiment. The difference was instantly apparent."

No shit. 

Anyway, it's a fun idea. I'm all in favour of getting people to look more closely at the actualy object. More interesting, perhaps, would have been to pull in some period copies and studio works, to really test the public's sense of connoisseurship. More here. Opens 10th Feb.

Update - a reader writes:

Upon some rumination, I suggest you might want to reconsider your use of what Americans call an 'expletive', for posterity, when you might be considered for a swanky position, or the like.

I fear my chances of attaining any swanky position have long gone.

Update II - in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones is not at all impressed. He says the idea is 'moronic':

It will confuse the public, undermine the pleasure of looking at the great paintings on its walls, and replace the joy of learning about art with a glib postmodern game that is pretentious and destructive. I personally don’t intend to go anywhere near Dulwich until this silliness is done with.

Fakes are not fun. They are not cool. And the postmodernist cult of the replica is getting seriously old. Umberto Eco wrote his seminal essay on this theme, Faith in Fakes, decades ago. The easy claim that replicas are just as good as the real thing and no one can tell them apart anyway is now a hackneyed idea, recently wheeled out like the most boring of dinner party bons mots when the V&A reopened its Renaissance cast court. [...]

It is [...] daft to think a hidden fake adds to the interest of Dulwich picture gallery’s paintings. The anxiety it creates can only detract from a genuine experience of the collection. Museums should not join in the moronic celebration of the replica. Their job is to preserve originals, and make those accessible. Art only matters when it is the real thing.

And another reader writes, further to my suggestion above that a wider display of copies and studio works might encourage even closer looking:

The Kunsthistorisches in Vienna did just that, when I was there a couple of years ago. It was a brilliant display that put copies next to a number of their works, including (if I recall correctly) anonymous contemporaries, a nineteenth century copyist of Tintoretto, a nineteenth century chromoprint of Titian and Heintz's copy alongside Parmigianino's Cupid Making his Bow. Vistors were invited to work out which was which, helped by excellent information cards. It was well thought out and well presented, but without fanfare. On the other hand, the Dulwich initiative looks a bit gimmicky to me.

Another reader adds:

Comparing historic copies to originals is indeed a very interesting exercise for the viewer. It may be worth noting that The National Palace Museum in Taipei (constituting the main part of the former Chinese imperial art collection) held ‘solo exhibitions’ last year of works by the four great painters of the Ming Dynasty. These exhibitions included some good period copies displayed next to the originals with detailed explanations. Interestingly, some of these copies were held together with the originals in the imperial collection.

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