As I write, I stand in front of a painting by Salvador Dali: The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Created for a competition — which he loses to Max Ernst — the work is considered as one of the most important of the Spanish dandy, today exhibited at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
I am not in Brussels, however, but in my Parisian living room. Like many art lovers with no savings, I’ve unscrupulously surrendered to the purchase of a copy found on eBay, now sitting on the wall above my sofa.
If most of my friends appreciate the character it brings, some deplore its presence for not being an original. Have I killed art…?
Edgar Mrugalla is a German artist little known to the general public, despite his prolific career. Before the age of 50, he paints more than 3,500 canvases… without imagining any of them. Mrugalla is a talented forger, imitating to perfection the brushstrokes of Rembrandt, Klimt, Cézanne and Picasso — never Dali, whom he deeply abhors..
Officially an antique dealer, he first copies to learn how to paint, then discovers an obvious gift that he decides to exploit. His business turns so well that the number of works sold ends up attracting attention… and leading him to jail. He is released two years later, provided he cooperates with the state in the fight against high-flying counterfeiting. Hoisted with one’s own petard…
The temple of fake
Edgar Mrugalla’s Hollywood-like story inspires Diane Grobe. In the heart of Vienna, she opened theMuseum of Art Fakes in 2005, the only one of its kind in Europe. For the first time, forgeries are elevated to the status of artistic creation — the “king of counterfeiters” actually offers it its first pieces… Today, the collection is completed by a false correspondence by Hitler, as well as paintings by Han van Meegeren — author of what is long believed to be “the most successful of all Veermers”.
Such destinies lead us to rethink our definition of the artist. Are dexterity and technique enough, or must they necessarily be accompanied by creativity? Is a work defined by its author, or what it represents? Does a fake get a piece of realness when hung on a museum wall? What if in the end, the art of counterfeiters was not the one they imitate, but rather the illusion…? •