Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: The Art of the Con

The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World
Anthony M. Amore
Crime, art

It's tempting to call art forging the perfect victimless crime. Nobody is forced to buy paintings, and most of the victims have more money than is good for them anyway. Nor can you argue, in one sense, that you're not getting what you pay for. The painting looks, after all, the same regardless of who painted it. If you're buying it because you like it, that should be enough. And if you're buying it as an investment, and you don't do your homework, it's nobody's fault but yours if it turns out to be bogus. 

Finally, most art forgers concentrate on faking modern art--because it's dead easy; you don't need any skill--so who cares? (Thought question: if nobody can tell a "priceless" Mark Rothko original from a replica slapped together by an underpaid Chinese immigrant working in a warehouse in Queens, what does that say about the art?)

On the other hand, the art forgers themselves seem to be genuinely awful people. The word "sociopath" is overused these days, but the character portraits in The Art of the Con show narcissists and Machiavellian personalities run amok. These are not twinkly-eyed rogues, although they're sometimes portrayed that way. These are people who, quite clearly, genuinely feel that the only crime is to get caught.

So much for musings. As to the book itself, it's zippily written, not especially deep, good on quick character portraits, weak on the art itself, and without pretenses to completeness or analysis. If you think the subject matter sounds interesting, you'll probably enjoy this book.

The Man Who Made Vermeers, by Jonathan Lopez, is an excellent book on the forger Han van Meegeren, who definitely fit the narcissist profile.

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