One of those exhibits that to my mind defined the first quarter of the year was made up of artworks that were versions of actual forgeries of original artworks.
It would be stuff for controversy and heated debate, except that it wasn’t.
We don’t seem to know to get excited anymore.
The premise of Lyra Garcellano’s Forged (West Gallery) were a set of arguments on “the valuation of creative output, the issues of authenticity and its implications to a work’s financial viability, and generated images as goods for trade” (curatorial note).
On one wall of the small gallery hung four small paintings, labelled with sizes that do not correspond to the actual size of each one, followed by a year each: 2009, 2011, 2012, and one without a date.
The portrayals of seemingly distraught figures, captured in various moments of inactivity—lying on a bed, sitting up doing nothing—construct a collective pain, wordless and decontextualized, the mere site of broken bodies a sight to behold, a statement in itself on the state of affairs that bear down on the body to the point of this quiet of exhaustion, the calm of agony.
On the opposite wall is a shelf with exhibition catalogues, each one carrying images of the same paintings in the room. Here are the original works, with their original titles, and contextualized in the other works it was exhibited with, in the curatorial note of each exhibit.
Seeing it on that page and on the wall, the effect is dissonance: for is not what’s on that wall illegal? Is it not the bane of every artist’s existence, the possibility of being forged, the work done so well it is sold as original?
When one realizes that the artist had employed another artist to do these forgeries, it takes a while to lift one’s jaw off the floor.
Forgeries and ownership
Going through the art catalogues also raises other questions. Isn’t looking at a high-resolution photograph of the original work, as printed in the official catalogue of an exhibit, a catalogue that will be kept and “owned,” the same as “owning” mere replicas of a work?
Where forgeries are about earning from someone else’s work, isn’t that also one of the reasons why catalogues are even made for an exhibit? For the gallery to earn from someone else’s (i.e., the artist’s) work?
Where the forgeries are but a capture of the same images removed from its original context, aren’t the images in a catalogue, the photos on a spectator’s phone, exactly the same?
It might be said that the problem with art forgeries is that people earn from copying other people’s works and passing these off as their own. It is un-creative, if not anti-creative, we’ve been taught to say. Yet to some extent it democratizes the ownership of “art” by creating replicas of otherwise unaffordable art work. That in the process what it critiques is the concept of rarity, which is necessarily tied the value of any piece of art, is also precisely the point that needs to be made.
The erasure of the artist
On two shelves hanging on another wall of the gallery are installed renderings of the four Certificates of Authenticity that must have gone to the buyers of the original artworks, as exhibited at Finale Art File. On the shelf under are Certificates of Authenticity for the forgeries on the nearby wall.
This appropriation is a rebellious act in itself—it puts into question the concepts of authenticity and ownership of art which this piece of paper stands for. Authenticity falls on the shoulders of the gallery owner, while ownership is what’s perennially on sale via the artwork and this piece of paper. That the artist is absent from this transaction is precisely the point: the moment an artwork is sold, the artist ceases to own the work as well.
The artist is left with images on a catalogue, pieces of paper that prove a transaction has been made, some cash in the bank. There is no proof that the original work itself continues to exist at any given point, given our lack of interest in documentation and our disrespect for provenance.
It’s much like one’s works being forged—copied, plagiarized—isn’t it, except that in the latter you are silenced without you knowing it?
Within the art system, meanwhile, one is complicit in the task of silencing.
Broken bodies, artists
In this sense, while hiring art forgery artists to paint one’s own paintings is quite an act of defiance against the system itself, and while Certificates of Authenticity as official documents are rendered unstable by the same certificates cooked up for forgeries, are rebellious acts in itself, the exhibit as a whole seems to be beyond rebellion, and is in fact at the point of surrender.
This is seen in the specific works that were chosen for Forged, where it is the images of these broken tired bodies that remain as subject of the exhibit, as it is the basis of each set of documents here— the forgeries, the catalogues, the certificates of authenticity.
These bodies—rendered immobile, captured at specific moments of fatigue—make for an ultimate interrogation of the state of (art) affairs, the system that renders artists as mere bodies, whose labors are paid for, and whose ownership of their own art is but a necessary delusion. These paintings are subjects and objects, but are also symbols of a crisis in art and its making, its selling and its ownership, one that in itself is silenced by the mere existence of this exhibit, within that same system it questions.
It is not a compromise as much as it is an implosion.
As with many-a-national crises though, all that we heard was radio silence.