Wednesday, February 16, 2005

We watched the first two episodes of Gallery Fake last night. It's this Seventies-TV-flavored, cool-jazz anime about a rogue art-dealer who specializes in authentication and counterfeiting scams. He runs a small gallery in Tokyo that specializes in really, really good fakes - the eponymous "Gallery Fake" - along with his Arabic-princess little matchstick girl of an assistant. It sounds exactly like my sort of thing, but the writer or writers just couldn't pay off on the premise. None of the scams really make sense, and you leave the episodes more confused than enlightened. He produces "real" versions of fake paintings straight from the deus ex machina, which is annoying in a narrative sense.

Furthermore, I still don't get how the deauthentication scam of the first episode works internally - the conspirators falsely label authentic paintings as fake, passing them out of the museum's collection at fire-sale prices through the suborned dealer. But how do they get back on the market as "real"? I thought the whole point of authentication was that the trail of ownership was known - the provenance of the painting, from painter to dealer to owner and so on. How do they "wash clean" the false accusation? The writers of Gallery Fake don't bother to tell us, don't fill in the gaps. Villains just look shifty and get shafted by the brilliant protagonist, and we're supposed to applaud his brilliance. Except the shafting seems to consist of the protagonist paying three times as much as he was supposed to for the Monet in question. Presumably the conspirators were the ones putting the painting up for auction, through some series of cut-outs or fronts. Didn't he just overpay the villains for their work?

It drives me a little batty, because the subject is sort of interesting. I don't understand the world of high art. I'm a prints sort of guy - a believer in the mass market and art for the general crowd. The one-off painting of unsurpassing fame and vast price is a fundamental mystery to me. The basic aesthetic quality of the multi-million dollar paintings seem to be only a slight fractionate element of the auction price. More important is the uniqueness of the work, the creator's reputation, the work's reputation, and the train of ownership. The metadata about the painting seems to drive the pricing of investor-grade art more than anything intrinsic about the thing itself.

Here is where counterfeiting and fakery become interesting. They produce work which are, on an aesthetic level, no different to my philistine eyes than the true metal stamped from the original press. Even if that aesthetic value of the false work is fractionately less than the true work, since the aesthetic value is such a minor element in the pricing of the work, the metadata surrounding both works is what is important to the investors, bidders, and curators.

The protagonist of Gallery Fake holds great thematic potential here. There are slight suggestions in the narrative that might lead one to the supposition that some fakes could be better than the original work - that the counterfeit might be aesthetically superior to the true metal. Someone who deauthenticates real work exposes the art to the open air of raw criticism - strips it of all pretense and borrowed glory, and leaves it reliant on its intrinsic, aesthetic merits. Such a protagonist would be noble in the existential sense - severing art from art history, ideology from aesthetics.

I suppose I'm expecting too much from a slight bit of fluff like Gallery Fake. But these are the ideas that come roiling to the surface when someone stirs the waters, you know?

No comments: