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the Complete Review
the complete review - art / history


Jonathon Keats

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To purchase Forged

Title: Forged
Author: Jonathon Keats
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2013
Length: 175 pages
Availability: Forged - US
Forged - UK
Forged - Canada
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  • Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting case studies, but shies away from its provocative thesis

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/6/2013 Stuart Kelly
Publishers Weekly . 13/8/2012 .
Sunday Times . 24/3/2013 James McConnachie
The Washington Times . 5/4/2013 John M. Taylor

  From the Reviews:
  • "The best part of Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age is not what comes after the colon." - Stuart Kelly, The Guardian

  • "But as he decries most appropriation as being locked in a self-referential holding pattern, while declaring science the new frontier of boundary smashing, itís unclear why Keats has devoted most of his book to profiling artistic frauds." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The author is at his best in recounting these tales of notorious forgers, although the reader is conscious of the absence of illustrations. Mr. Keats is less persuasive when he philosophizes that copies are great art. By definition, copies lack spontaneity. More importantly, they lack any creative spark." - John M. Taylor, The Washington Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The subtitle of Forged suggests this will be a book that explores Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age -- which certainly is an intriguing and provocative idea. In his opening chapter Keats expands on that, suggesting:

     We need to examine the anxieties that forgeries elicit in us now. We need to compare the shock of getting duped to the cultivate angst evoked by legitimate art, and we need to recognize what the art establishment will never acknowledge: No authentic modern masterpiece is as provocative as a great forgery. Forgers are the foremost artists of our time.
       That sounds promising -- but it demands considerable supporting evidence and argument. After all, forgers are not widely recognized and hailed as 'the foremost artists of our time'. Keats offers several case studies -- the middle section of Forged, making up the bulk of the book, consists of chapters devoted to 'Six Modern Masters' -- but only in the much shorter opening and closing sections does he really make the case for his thesis. Forged turns out to be considerably more documentary in character than anything else.
       The case studies -- of forgers such as Lothar Malskat, Han van Meegeren, and Elmyr de Hory - are certainly entertaining. Given the lies and deception, big money, court cases, and media attention surrounding it, art forgery often has many of the elements of a good thriller, and Keats presents some of the most notorious cases of the twentieth century; if nothing else, they're fascinating stories. But these cases also raise serious questions, about authenticity and expertise, as well as more fundamental ones about the nature of art itself (and, indirectly, its perversion through commerce).
       As Keats repeatedly shows, the art world is an almost hilariously corrupt business, with too many interested parties -- notably dealers, 'experts', and auction houses -- more interested in cash flow and turnover than questions of authenticity. Many cases of forgery are only finally reluctantly acknowledged when the evidence is not just incontrovertible but inescapable (like when two identical paintings go up for auction at two different auction houses ...). Even admission of guilt often isn't enough to convince those who have their own reasons to believe (or to convince others ...) that fakes are the real thing, as Lothar Malskat found out.
       As Keats also shows, among the consequences of widespread forgery over the years is also that art history itself has been corrupted, as many fakes have come to be (and presumably often still are) considered integral parts of artists' œuvres.
       All this raises many fascinating questions. Keats tackles some of them, in considering for example the nature of Sherrie Levine's acknowledged identical copies of familiar art (leading also to, for example, AfterSherrieLevine.com, where you can print out your very own "certificate of authenticity for each image"), but on the whole doesn't explore even this basic concept of 'authenticity' sufficiently. (So also he largely avoids consideration of the presumably immense number of forgeries in circulation whose authenticity remains unquestioned -- and the question of whether a 'fake' whose fakeness goes unrecognized is greater or lesser art .....)
       The question of authenticity is surely the key one in considering forgery and its significance -- what do we value about an original, and why, and why isn't a forgery 'good enough' (or is it ?), etc. The issue has become more complex in our age of mechanical reproduction -- not so much with painting (yet ...), but certainly in other artistic fields -- and Keats does offer interesting examples. Yet the case he makes for forgers as 'the foremost artists of our time' is, at the very least, incomplete.
       Indeed, in staking a claim for what is after all merely imitative art -- nothing is as derivative as a forgery, whether it is a direct copy or simply based on the other work of an artist -- Keats relies heavily on examples, before shifting the argument in an entirely new direction in his concluding section, where he suggests, for example, that:
     Given the unlimited potential of experimentation, it comes as no surprise that the strongest provocations in the 21st century take the form of pure research , more often associated with the sciences.
       If not entirely a leap, it's certainly a stretch from the forgery-examples he focuses on earlier, and leaves the book hanging between its two poles, the documentary and the theoretical. Forged is, in turn, both entertaining and thought-provoking, but falls regrettably short of convincingly showing Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 January 2013

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Forged: Reviews: Other books by Jonathon Keats under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Jonathon Keats was born in 1971.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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