Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Aha! It’s a Forgery!

Do you like my title? I bet it grabbed your attention. That’s because even though forgeries of art are bad, and terrible, and bad they are also kind of cool and compelling. We’ve all seen movies or read books about master forgers slyly passing of their work as real and attempting to fade off into the sunset, until a scrappy young police officer/detective/Sherlock foils them by pointing out the inconsistencies. Well, a very clever museum in VA has decided to capitalize on this mystique by creating an exhibit with a deliberate forgery included. How fun!

The idea is to have museum go-ers look through a collection of 20 paintings, and then identify the one that is not an original Butterworth (who apparently painted water, and boats, and stuff). The only way from a person to do so is to analyze the paintings closely to determine the style and tropes of the artist. Maybe this painting doesn’t feature the characteristic light pattern? Or, ooh, that one right there doesn’t have the same brush style! Can’t you imagine this being so much fun?

This is an incredibly, amazingly intelligent move on the part of this museum. Not only does it promote audience engagement for regular attendees, but it’s also encouraging new attendees who are drawn by the allure of being the one to figure it out. They are also collecting information from people who come to the exhibit by using touch screens to deliver valuable information to ‘solve the case’, as well as get audience feedback on the initiative. I would go to this museum just to experience this.

I think taking what might be conceived as a threat and spinning into an opportunity is brilliant. Furthermore, it really shows that this museum is thinking outside the box in terms of determining what museum attendees might be interested in. It doesn’t detract from the exhibit, or minimize the integrity of their mission, but enhances the overall experience by making people look closer. Count me in!

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2 comments on “Aha! It’s a Forgery!

  1. Jenni
    November 3, 2014

    What a fascinating idea! The coolest thing in my opinion (as a non-visual arts focused person) is that they are teaching museum goers, who may not have a visual art background, how to analyze paintings in a new way and encouraging them to take a closer look. I love going to art galleries, but I can’t say that I’ve ever had the chance to really compare the complexities of an artist’s signature style. That is something I’d love to learn and be taught how to do, so this kind of thing sounds super interesting to me! Very cool, thanks for sharing!

  2. hshambroom
    November 5, 2014

    I think this is totally brilliant! As you said, it not only encourages closer looking at the works of art, but also benefits the museum by allowing them access to more types of people, and more information about the people coming. It’s also a really cool way to get people engaged with works that, for many, are admittedly sort of boring… you can only look at so many paintings of boats at sea, ya know? I looked at the slideshow attached to the article and even just looking at those few images I found myself looking much more closely at brushstrokes, composition, and lines than I ever would have if confronted with a regular exhibit of maritime works. This is such an interesting way to teach people (without have to actually teach) how to engage with a work of art and how to read visual images! I love it.

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