Friday, 20 March 2009

Art for arts sake

I have great difficulty understanding anyone who describe themselves as an 'artist'. This could well be a failing on my part, but I have yet to meet anyone who can adequately answer the question. 'what is art?'

All I know is that 'I like what I like' and that:
Painters paint
Poets write poetry.
Sculptors sculpt
Photographers photograph.

...nowhere have I found artists who 'art'.

For me, recent UK events sum the whole thing for art's sake, money for God's sake.

When police raided the Greenhalgh family home they uncovered one of the most audacious attempts to swindle the art world ever seen. The unassuming three-bedroom house on the outskirts of Bolton concealed a forgery factory that stunned detectives.
Watercolours tumbled out of wardrobes, half-finished statues sat in the kitchen and a furnace for melting precious metals was on top of the fridge. Raw materials including Roman glass and silver coins were stuffed in cupboards alongside a library of books on subjects from Egyptian art to modern watercolours.
Detectives said the family may have been responsible for creating up to 120 pieces over almost two decades with a total potential value of more than £10 million. But their actual profits were just a fraction of this, something between £500,000 and £600,000, most of which sat untouched in a high street bank account.
The prolific mastermind behind the forgeries was 47-year-old Shaun Greenhalgh. But his frail parents, George and Olive, both aged in their 80s, also played vital roles in the process of creating fraudulent histories for each piece.
Mr Greenhalgh, 84, a former technical drawing teacher, was the frontman who would turn up in his wheelchair to ask experts to identify his "discoveries". While Mrs Greenhalgh once claimed that a pastel work imitating LS Lowry was given to her as a 21st birthday present from her father.
Detective Ian Lawson, of Scotland Yard's arts and antiques unit, said Shaun Greenhalgh was not motivated by greed, but by a desire to embarrass the art world. He said: "He thought he was having it over a lot of people that should have known better. It is more of a resentment of the art world - to prove that they could do it."
After his arrest the creator boasted to detectives that he could produce a Thomas Moran landscape, worth up to £10,000, in just 30 minutes.
The family also turned out marble fragments covered in intricate drawings and script claiming they were from a palace in ancient Assyria. But the biggest coup for the family was the sale of an Egyptian Amarna Princess statuette. The grand forgery would eventually lead to their downfall. The 20-inch piece, claimed to be 3,300 years old, was said to represent one of the daughters of Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, the mother of King Tutankhamun.
Thinking that only two other similar pieces existed - one in the Louvre in Paris and another in a Philadelphia museum - Bolton council snapped up the "bargain" for £440,000 in 2003 and it remained on display for two years.
Detectives said the master forger was forced to use guesswork when creating the lost pieces, as only the front and rear sides were on show in photographs he found in reference works. Among the institutions targeted by the family as they attempted to sell their dodgy wares were museums in Chester, Liverpool, the Henry Moore Institute and the National Museum of Ireland.
Det Sgt Vernon Rapley said the full impact of the family's prodigious output has yet to be felt because as many as 100 forged pieces could still be in circulation.

Maybe the American comic artist Robert Crumb had it right when he said,

'Art is just a racket! A hoax perpetrated on the public by so called 'artists' who set themselves up on a pedestal and promoted by pantywaist ivory tower intellectuals and sob-sister 'critics' who think the world owes them a living'.

What do you think?


  1. Heehee!! I just watched "How to Steal a Million" with Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn.

  2. The experts and critics I think are the bad part of "art". And I often wonder how it is one artist becomes collectible when he breaks all the rules that galleries and those experts want us to adhere to. Antiquities is the easiest scam market.

    Some years back a museum here in the US bought a Greek cast sculpture of a horse. It was really beautiful and a treasure in my opinion on just that level. But it had mold lines that were rather clearly visible in photographs and the age of the casting preceded that development. Needless to say the experts were embarrassed.

    Any competent craftsman can copy. It is originality that is hard to duplicate.

  3. Are you sure this isn't a the script for a new season of LOVEJOY? I loved that series! I agree with you, Michael. I like what I like. I have a small collection of vintage WW I posters. I like them more and more as time goes by. Someone else might take them for junk.

  4. Art, which used to mean what we saw in an art gallery, was defined to me as a balance between the sensual and the intellectual. Recently the balance has tilted rather precariously towards the purely intellectual. A loss, I think.

  5. Hello Michael,

    I remember this story from a year or so ago and thought then how stupid (and, hopefully, embarrassed) some so-called experts must feel.

    It's a pity that anyone's talent should be devoted to forgery. But it is the huge sums associated with art that provide the temptation.

  6. This story rings a bell...smiling...

    The story is really something else...and definitely worth the repost. Amazing what some will do for a buck...