Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Forgery and renewal

The forger's work is said to be convincing at the time, but later starts to belong to the time when it was made. The 'Vermeers' of Van Megeren now look nothing like Vermeers but rather resemble the bad late 19th century painting he grew up with. But he was imprisoned in Holland at the end of WW2 for selling a national treasure, a Vermeer, to Goebbels, effectively charged with treason, which carried the death penalty. It wasn't until he painted a 'Vermeer' in the presence of witnesses in his prison cell that he was believed, and became a bit of a national hero.

I wonder how Elmyr de Hory's drawings will stand up to time. He was a gifted artist with an intimate understanding of the sensibility and style of most 20th century artists, and found he could make an easier living out of it than developing anything of his own. He made such beautiful Picasso and Matisse drawings that the 'experts' were usually fooled. Of course that isn't illegal; signing them or claiming they are by another artist is illegal, and Elmyr claimed he never wrongly signed a drawing... When it all began to unravel in the late 1960s he committed suicide rather than face prison in Ibiza. Orson Welles' film about forgery, F is for Fake, shows him at home in Ibiza, casually making an exquisite Matisse, explaining how Matisse's line was hesitant -- and then burning it, laughing. After that, provenance, rather than the expert eye, was regarded as trustworthy, until provenances began to be forged...

& music? If original recordings of D'Arienzo suddenly became valuable, I guess the discs and recording techniques could be copied, but the music would be something else. D'Arienzo was an orquesta, not an individual, and they played together nightly. In any case, musicians, like art forgers, carry with them the sensibility of their times. Classical music isn't played now as it was 50 years ago. There's a new kind of rhythmic urgency, and it's hard not to think that this comes from a generation of musicians whose background includes Coltrane and Hendrix. When I first heard that wild bandoneon solo in the Cumparasita of Orquesta Escuelo, I assumed it was a new arrangement, then a few weeks ago I heard it again, note for note - in an old D'Arienzo recording. But it sounds new, and so it should. Even in playing old scores, musicians bring in what they have heard, and renew the music.

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