A quiet evening was spent with Debussy and Ravel’s String Quartets and a fascinating story in New Yorker. In the first half of the story, David Grann presented a seemingly scientific authentication method for art works: fingerprints. However, as he delved deeper into the investigation about the proponent of the method — Peter Paul Biro, there revealed dis-concerning amount of lawsuits, controversies and lies behind the man and the authentication process.
Objective authentication can only be achieved if practitioners do not have a financial interest or cannot benefit in anyway from saying yes or no, or in some cases, procrastinating intentionally from making the judgement. Ultimately, if anyone who falls victim to forgery (old or new, paintings or fingerprints), it is only because of their greed and a desire to reap money from the big names. A great artwork should stand on its own regardless of whether there is a signature or who signed it.
There are two paragraphs that particularly resound with me.
When a forgery is exposed, people in the art world generally have the same reaction: how could anyone have ever been fooled by something so obviously phony, so artless? Few connoisseurs still think that Han van Meegeren’s paintings look at all like Vermeers, or even have any artistic value. Forgers usually succeed not because they are so talented but, rather, because they provide, at a moment in time, exactly what others desperately want to see. Conjurers as much as copyists, they fulfill a wish or a fantasy. And so the inconsistencies—crooked signatures, uncharacteristic brushstrokes—are ignored or explained away.
Connoisseurship is rife with flaws. It is susceptible to error, arrogance, even corruption. And yet there is something about that “strange breed of cat,” as Hoving referred to the best connoisseurs, who could truly see with greater depth—who, after decades of training and study and immersion in an artist’s work, could experience a picture in a way that most of us can’t. Connoisseurship is not merely the ability to discern whether an art work is authentic or fake; it is also the ability to recognize whether a work is a masterpiece. Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth about art is that such knowledge can never be truly democratic.