Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age Info

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According to Vasari, the young Michelangelo often borrowed
drawings of past masters, which he copied, returning his imitations to
the owners and keeping originals. Half a millennium later, Andy Warhol
made a game of "forging" the Mona Lisa, questioning the entire concept
of originality.
Forged explores art forgery from ancient
times to the present. In chapters combining lively biography with
insightful art criticism, Jonathon Keats profiles individual art forgers
and connects their stories to broader themes about the role of
forgeries in society. From the Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto who
faked a Raphael masterpiece at the request of his Medici patrons, to the
Vermeer counterfeiter Han van Meegeren who duped the avaricious Hermann
Göring, to the frustrated British artist Eric Hebborn, who began
forging to expose the ignorance of experts, art forgers have challenged
"legitimate" art in their own time, breaching accepted practices and
upsetting the status quo. They have also provocatively confronted many
of the present-day cultural anxieties that are major themes in the arts.
Keats uncovers what forgeries--and our reactions to them--reveal about
changing conceptions of creativity, identity, authorship, integrity,
authenticity, success, and how we assign value to works of art. The book
concludes by looking at how artists today have appropriated many
aspects of forgery through such practices as street-art stenciling and
share-and-share-alike licensing, and how these open-source "copyleft"
strategies have the potential to make legitimate art meaningful again.

Forgery has been much discussed--and decried--as a crime.
Forged is the first book to assess great forgeries as high art
in their own right.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age:

2

Nov 08, 2012

The six potted biographies of forgers or "appropriative artists" were interesting, as I mostly had not heard of them before, and many of them fell into the "truth is stranger than fiction" category. Ultimately, however, Forged is a rather tiresome work, one which is based on a series of unexamined assertions and a pretty privileged white male view of art and the art world. "Forgers are the foremost artists of our age", Keats asserts, because they subvert "art" (a word whose meaning Keats never The six potted biographies of forgers or "appropriative artists" were interesting, as I mostly had not heard of them before, and many of them fell into the "truth is stranger than fiction" category. Ultimately, however, Forged is a rather tiresome work, one which is based on a series of unexamined assertions and a pretty privileged white male view of art and the art world. "Forgers are the foremost artists of our age", Keats asserts, because they subvert "art" (a word whose meaning Keats never defines, which allows him to use it interchangeably as "the modern art industry", "fine art", or "any object which is made or interpreted in a creative way"), something which since the Renaissance has increasingly focused more on authenticity, historicity, legitimacy and the artist's celebrity than it does on the piece's aesthetic qualities or skills.

There's something to be said for exploring these issues, but I think Keats fails to do so in an honest way. Those who fail to see forgers as some sort of modern folk heroes are chastised for being too literal minded, too complicit in the system, not able to see the possibilities inherent in what they produce. Keats never really engages with the rebuttals which could be made of his argument, and seems in fact to change the terms of that argument at several points—the section on Andy Warhol and in particular the last chapter seemed to belong to an entirely different book. At this point Keats' dismisses peoples' concerns about GMO plants being released into the wild as merely illustrating how people have trouble reconciling the tension between the real and the artificial, which... what?

That was baffling, but Keats' championing of "appropriative" art was downright rage-inducing. His view of the history of art is focused almost exclusively on the West, and he entirely fails to deal with any of the ways in which such appropriation has often been used to oppress ethnic and cultural minorities and to reinforce privilege—think of the "Navajo print" panties produced by Urban Outfitters this past year. Those are surely fakes, taking the name of a still-living culture and reproducing for profit prints which claimed to be authentic Navajo designs, without the involvement or the authorisation of any Navajo people or any understanding of the roles which those prints play within Navajo culture. Would Keats endorse these as a bold and necessary evolution of art, a broadening of the demographic which is allowed to create art, and if not, why not? Where are his ethical lines, or is everything okay if it's white men who are being subversive?

I'm honestly a little confused by the fact that Forged—which if anything seems to fall into a pop academic genre—has been published by OUP. Looking at Keats' Wikipedia page, however, I see that he's made something of a name for himself with provocative art works (though honestly ones which, to me, largely seem pretty eyeroll-inducing)—is his book being published, then, solely to cash in on the notoriety attached to his name? If so, that does bring an extra layer of irony to this work. ...more
4

May 16, 2019

Ooh, I really liked this book! It was so engrossing, entertaining, and provocative. Somebody said it was dry? Slow? I didn’t think so at all. In fact, it’s downright humorous in places. I kept reading passages to my husband.

The book raises many questions about the implications of forgery for art, its relationship to art, and forgery as an art in itself. Part One, which is Chapter 1, sets us up with some themes to keep in mind when reading the stories of six famous forgers. The author maintains Ooh, I really liked this book! It was so engrossing, entertaining, and provocative. Somebody said it was dry? Slow? I didn’t think so at all. In fact, it’s downright humorous in places. I kept reading passages to my husband.

The book raises many questions about the implications of forgery for art, its relationship to art, and forgery as an art in itself. Part One, which is Chapter 1, sets us up with some themes to keep in mind when reading the stories of six famous forgers. The author maintains that “art forgeries achieve what legitimate art accomplishes when legitimate art is most effective, provoking us to ask agitating questions about ourselves and our world.”

It also reminds us that, “To become a serious artist, the forger must get caught. The swindle must be exposed.” Which explains why so many forgers come forward, turn themselves in, and claim responsibility. It’s fascinating that in some times and places, they have been reviled, while in others, lionized.

Part Two, comprising the next six chapters, focuses on the careers in forgery of Lothar Malskat, Alceo Dossena, Han van Meegeren, Eric Hebborn, Elmyr de Hory, and Tom Keating — with themes of What Is Belief?, What Is Authenticity?, What Is Authority?, What Is History?, What Is Identity?, and What Is Culture? Fascinating questions, indeed.

And finally, Part Three, Forging a New Art, covers some more modern hijinks — From Duchamp’s “Fountain” and “L.H.O.O.Q.” to Warhol to graffiti artists and Internet hoaxes (e.g., a fake Vatican website where papal encyclicals were “lightly modified” to promote free sex and drug legalization).

Never dull, imho. ...more
4

Oct 26, 2012

Covering Michaelangelo, Lothar Malskat, Alceo Dossena,Han van Meegeren,Eric Hebborn, Elmyr de Hory, Tom Keating and Andy Warhol, forging past masters has raised a good question of what is art? Does an artist who copies a painting by someone not deserve credit on the merit on the work he produced at all just because it's not original? Sketching a background of each of these artists allows us to understand why and how they became famous not for their own work but for the forgeries they produced, Covering Michaelangelo, Lothar Malskat, Alceo Dossena,Han van Meegeren,Eric Hebborn, Elmyr de Hory, Tom Keating and Andy Warhol, forging past masters has raised a good question of what is art? Does an artist who copies a painting by someone not deserve credit on the merit on the work he produced at all just because it's not original? Sketching a background of each of these artists allows us to understand why and how they became famous not for their own work but for the forgeries they produced, including the technology and techniques they used to replicate as closely as possible the style of artists such as Vermeer, Caravaggio and Pisano among others.

The exception to this is Andy Warhol, a famous pop artist, who did not replicate the Mona Lisa with any intent to pass his work off as the original portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Forgers have been derided through time and perhaps while their intentions may not have been admirable, their skills should and creativity should be looked at in their own merit. This book certainly makes the reader consider other aspects of what constitutes good art. ...more
4

Dec 09, 2016

If the purpose of contemporary art is to unsettle and to cause anxiety, might forgeries then be true art? asks Jonathon Keats in Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age. Of course, it only achieves its goal when it is revealed to be a fake, which is usually not the goal of the forger. But some, upon being discovered, tell all, or a version of all, in which some forgeries are possibly left unrevealed and fingers pointed in so many directions that museums, collectors and experts are left If the purpose of contemporary art is to unsettle and to cause anxiety, might forgeries then be true art? asks Jonathon Keats in Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age. Of course, it only achieves its goal when it is revealed to be a fake, which is usually not the goal of the forger. But some, upon being discovered, tell all, or a version of all, in which some forgeries are possibly left unrevealed and fingers pointed in so many directions that museums, collectors and experts are left scrambling.

The body of Keats' book tells the stories of several famous forgers and a history of the roots of forgery, beginning in renaissance Italy, when copies were made of coveted works, leading to arguments later as to which version was the original. In this book, forgers seem to have similar motivations; technically brilliant, but lacking a personal vision or style, these artists were rejected by the critics and art community. They found work as restorers and their dissatisfaction allowed them to justify the deception. When their forgeries were celebrated, they could enjoy a secret laugh at the gullibility of the art community. Of course, revenge is only fun when the targets know they have been duped.

My favorite story concerned the restoration of the Schleswig cathedral in 1937. It had been badly restored in the nineteenth century with significant overpainting and as Lothar Malskat began work, entire frescoes crumbled to dust. So he simply recovered the walls with his own freehand painting. The church's restoration became a Nazi success story, with Himmler having books about the project distributed to schools across Germany. With the reputation of the Nazi party at stake, the discovery of a group of turkeys embellishing a painting supposedly painted in 1300 had to be explained away, turkeys being new world animals. And so a group of German vikings who sailed to the new world and brought back the animals was "discovered", because questioning a Nazi endorsed project was too dangerous. ...more
4

Aug 25, 2013

Fun, entertaining, book on the belief in forgery, a crime in which a person copies or creates a work of art and passes off as an original or from a famous artist. The idea of forgery seems to have risen the same way the idea of copyright has done, people claimed the right to own an artistic work or idea and be regularly compensated for it. Copying was the greatest form of respect once and occasionally still is today. Jonathan Keats splits his short book into several parts and provides an Fun, entertaining, book on the belief in forgery, a crime in which a person copies or creates a work of art and passes off as an original or from a famous artist. The idea of forgery seems to have risen the same way the idea of copyright has done, people claimed the right to own an artistic work or idea and be regularly compensated for it. Copying was the greatest form of respect once and occasionally still is today. Jonathan Keats splits his short book into several parts and provides an antidote for each chapter. The Art of Forgery tells of a time when Naples and Florence were in conflict over a Raphael portrait of Pope Leo X. The solution that one artist came up with was to paint a copy himself and both places had one. Later when forgery was a concept Naples was humiliated to find that they had a copy, not the original. Keats also tells stories of Ancient Egyptians in the Later Kingdoms who would often create statues in the style of the First Kingdom, not to confuse later archeologists, but to honor a style in their heritage. A more modern story is how a man made millions creating Ancient Greek statues by aging ones he had made himself. Experts in finding forgeries sprung up as more people became obsessed with owning an original and some even spoke of an art "grammar" that an artist had and was able to be decoded by an expert to expose a forgery or an original. This is a fun book and breaks the reader out of the mode of belief that is conventional about forgery in our time. A quick short read that is a lot of fun. ...more
4

Sep 13, 2016

I requested this book as part of the early reviewers program because I studied art history in college, and although I don't work in the field I still absolutely love reading and learning about art. I do think this book would be fine for someone who doesn't have an academic art history background. It's written in an accessible manner, which surprised me a little. Like another reviewer posted, I do kind of think this was written for a more general audience not for an academic audience. Still, it's I requested this book as part of the early reviewers program because I studied art history in college, and although I don't work in the field I still absolutely love reading and learning about art. I do think this book would be fine for someone who doesn't have an academic art history background. It's written in an accessible manner, which surprised me a little. Like another reviewer posted, I do kind of think this was written for a more general audience not for an academic audience. Still, it's a fun and interesting read, and is not terribly dumbed down.

I will also agree with another reviewer who said that the book is very focused on the western perspective. I had heard of and knew the stories of most of the forgers mentioned. In the introduction I found the brief discussion of Egyptian forgeries interesting, but I really wanted more!

So, overall a great book for an accessible, but intellectual, look at this corner of the art history world. One half star off because the advance copy had no illustrations/plates (which I wasn't expecting there to be) and images can really make or break a book like this! If I see the book in the stores I will certainly update. ...more
3

Jan 02, 2013

Keats, an art critic, writes of six infamous and prolific art forgers, master art forgers, really, who were able to imitate the style of legitimate masters well enough to fool experts and end up in museums. Some, like Alceo Dossena, created forgeries merely for the work, while others, such as Eric Hebborn, were interested in their egos, and at least one other, Tom Keating, claimed to do it as revenge, to cheat the gallery owners and patrons for allowing great artists to die in poverty.

This is an Keats, an art critic, writes of six infamous and prolific art forgers, master art forgers, really, who were able to imitate the style of legitimate masters well enough to fool experts and end up in museums. Some, like Alceo Dossena, created forgeries merely for the work, while others, such as Eric Hebborn, were interested in their egos, and at least one other, Tom Keating, claimed to do it as revenge, to cheat the gallery owners and patrons for allowing great artists to die in poverty.

This is an ARC, so I have to assume that the published book will have photos of the artwork being discussed, as a book on this subject that is only text is like a cookbook with half the ingredients missing. The first chapter is a bit dry as Keats lays down his theory that fakes should be judged by the same merits as the original as they can be just as accomplished and beautiful. This seems like a too inclusive attitude, especially for someone potentially paying for an original, but the following chapters on individual forgers makes it clear that there are probably many fakes attributed to masters hanging in world-class museums. It seems that everyone has been fooled at some point, even the Louvre.
If photos had been included I would give this a higher rating, but it's a good read. 3.5 stars ...more
2

Jan 18, 2013

Interesting, but slow read. Although I agree that this book was more for true art historians or experts and I was somewhat lost in it, the ideas of forgery changing in its perception is interesting to me. I requested this book through librarything because of my interest in art heists and in the history of art theft in war time. Even though I wasn't able to appreciate or understand all of his ideas, it made me expand my little brain cells and that's always good. ( )
3

Oct 20, 2013

The book is well-writ, the stories of the six great forgers are vivid and vibrant, and it is a generally enjoyable read.

HOWEVER, at the end of each tale of a fake, you'd expect Keats to elaborate on the more broad philosophic issues of authenticity, originality, and the creative process, which the forgeries implicate. This, sadly, never occurs; let alone a discussion on the ontology of works art. In this sense, this book is a missed opportunity.
4

Feb 08, 2014

Keats looks at the phenomenon of art forgeries though biographies of prominent forgers. One of the things I found interesting is that often the forgers were uncovered due to their own anger at their non-recognition as great artists (the same anger than often led them into forgery in the first place). Would make an interesting book club read since you close it wanting to talk to someone about the issue of forgery.
0

Sep 16, 2013

Skimmed this one. There's a balance of academic, lit crit theory and New Yorker profile of forgers (they seem to crop up twice a year in the magazine) in this book. Unfortunately, it tilts to the academic; the prose can be somewhat dry.

The book has an introductory section on why forgeries are even considered crimes -- in ancient times a copy was just a copy. Then there are profiles of 20th century forgers.
3

Mar 29, 2014

This is a collection of essays linked by a common subject more than a sustained argument about forgery. Well written accounts of well known cases of art forgery, and a richly suggestive closing essay on contemporary art of appropriation.
4

Feb 06, 2013

A fun, fascinating read detailing a history of art forgery, from semi-ancient Egypt to the renaissance to contemporary street artists' appropriations. I do wish it had illustrations--reproductions of fakes to admire! I would have loved to admire the forgers' skills.
4

Apr 28, 2013

I love his premise - that art forgeries are more a part of history than the originals. t's a questionable, but provocative premise in this age of simulacra. It has remarkable case studies. Very readable.
4

Mar 17, 2013

Great study of what drives value... I enjoyed the stores of forgers and dealers in cahoots until the forgers felt undervalued. Nice and twisted.
4

Oct 22, 2013

I enjoyed his selected examples of forgers. His overall thesis that fakes are the great art of our age a bit forced, but the book was still fairly strong.
5

Jan 02, 2017

It's a nice upbeat account of the commercial art world but he subverts his own argument by stating that forgerers can't ever produce original quality work.
2

Mar 26, 2014

The biography sections were interesting, but I don't feel that the author made a strong case for his title.
4

This is very well written. It goes through the history of art with wry humor and much enthusiasm, giving insight into many different facets of art, art history, museum practices, restoration...Full Review
4

I've studied Art History in college and I have been interested in art forgeries ever since I read Edward Dolnick's The Forger's Spell. So this was a really interesting read! Maybe a little complicated for those new to art history terms, but the overall content was great for this art nerd!Full Review
5

Jonathon Keats' "Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age" is a masterful ode to authenticity - whether real or imagined - and provides a necessary tonic to the hyperventilating tales of art ...Full Review
4

This book seems to suggest that forgeries are akin to "organisms" that throughout time have taken on a life of their own "which even the counterfeiter can't control. A forgery is alive with meaning ...Full Review
2

Aug 05, 2019

In Forged Jonathon Keats looks at art forgery with the usual stories of art forgery. It feels like the meat of this book, art forgers, has been sandwiched between an essay on originality in the history of art and I don’t think that they go together.
The first part of the book Keats tells a short history of art from Ancient Egypt to the present day from the perspective of his thesis of the greatness of fakes. In this loose history Keats doesn’t distinguish between fakes, forgeries, copies, In Forged Jonathon Keats looks at art forgery with the usual stories of art forgery. It feels like the meat of this book, art forgers, has been sandwiched between an essay on originality in the history of art and I don’t think that they go together.
The first part of the book Keats tells a short history of art from Ancient Egypt to the present day from the perspective of his thesis of the greatness of fakes. In this loose history Keats doesn’t distinguish between fakes, forgeries, copies, appropriation and piracy. In an odd version of the artistic skill verses originality argument Keats argues that forgeries are the great art.
However, Keats’s argument only works when the fake is discovered or revealed because part of the greater quality that Keats believes exists in them is that they have fooled people in the past. There is little else to prove any quality aside from the fact that they fooled people who wanted to be fooled, like Nazi’s supporting the forgery of medieval turkeys because the Vikings could have brought them back from America. When the fake has not been discovered it remains a mediocre to poor example of the supposed artist’s work.
The second part, and the bulk of the book, tells the story of several famous forgers in the twentieth century: Lothar Malskat, Alceo Dossena, Han Van Meegeren, Eric Hebborn, and Tom Keating. All of these forgers have been extensively written about in many other books.
It is in these biographical chapters that Keats argument of technique over anything else flounders. Even when cherry picking examples of famous forgers their technical ability appears over-rated. The Australian forger Pamela Liberto’s fake Rover Thomas works proved that you don’t need any artistic talent or technique to make and sell fakes.
These famous forgers are not really an appealing lot and Keats doesn’t help them; he even compares Van Meegeren’s aesthetics to Hitler’s. The famous forgers that Keats writes about are bitter, thwarted anachronisms; they certainly don’t appear to be the great artists of our age.
In the third part Keats continues his history of art that he started in the first part. He doesn’t look at forgeries at all but rather at copies. The closest that this part gets to forged is the art of J. S. G. Boggs who hand-draws pictures of money and exchanges it for goods of that value. There is an examination of copies of Mona Lisa by Warhol, Banksy and Duchamp before wandering into contemporary art.
...more
5

Aug 11, 2018

A brief, fascinating read on the history and implications of art forgery. Don’t let the provocative title throw you off, this book takes a nuanced look at what forgery means for art. The last chapter that examines appropriation in art is particularly interesting art theory.

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