Does it matter if something is real?
Recently and actually fairly slowly this thought about whether or not something is real and does it matter has been developing. Classic good taste has largely passed away for almost all of us. To some degree it is a question of exposure and the ability to tell the good from the great. Exposure is not enough. The second part of that thought is the ability to discern is a bit more mysterious and it is not clear that this can be taught or acquired. In our business we cross paths with “experts” that have formal educations but are unable to tell a bit of genius from a fake. This skill is not unfortunately common and as cheap imitation seems to rule the day. The majority of the successful retail home furnishing plays is simply copying the work of very talented designers as inexpensively as possible. Clearly the copy of a great thing is often sold in museums. It was the visual representation of how they might be used in your home that caused this market to take off.
For me the copy is generally not worth a second thought once its fraudulent nature is revealed. I wonder how a consumer will feel about these reproductions over time. Now I have spent about 30 years as a dealer and have been fortunate enough to see a few fundamental shifts in style. I will tell you generally people going to the trouble of collecting will avoid reproductions. There is one story that sticks in my mind because it backfired so brilliantly. An extraordinarily rare set of 300 year old Chinese Export wall paper was being sold to one of the very few that could afford it. A meeting with the companies technical team blew the deal up. They kept reassuring her that the reproductions used to complete the installation would be undetectable. Eventually the obvious question emerged. If virtually nobody can tell the difference why should I bother with this expense? The other obvious question was how much is a set of reproductions.
Along these lines comes this story from one of our finest museums. A remodel of the cafeteria called for the installation of two large roughly matching sculptures. I never learned the back story of these pieces but once they where put out on display alarm bells started going off. No question that the room was beautiful just a not so quiet whisper that the statues where perhaps 80 years old not 3600 years that was verified by an elaborate label. The museum “retired” these impressive pieces and I believe a few re-modelings have occurred in the meantime.
Finally a short story. I have a much loved artist that I collect. Recently his prices are taking off. In fact we see a significant amount of fakes. The artists compositions are complicated with many layers of underpainting and also I think, a fair amount of hidden and not so hidden surprises. Over time I enjoy his work more. For me the painting slowly reveals itself. I doubt the copies will do anything like this.
Ultimately the question is do you care if something is great or is a copy good enough. The poster shops came and went. The museum stores are ubiquitous. The test of time will leave the odd copies in a bin. Stay tuned.