Why Even Experts Fall for Art Forgery

Posted on December 8, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

The average person might be fooled by a fake Monet made of acrylic paint and mixed with K-Y Jelly, but wouldn’t an art aficionado know better? And yet the infamous British artist John Myatt was able to sell more than 200 forgeries of famous 19th- and 20th-century painters between 1986 and 1994, pawning more than $3 million worth of art until he was finally arrested and sentenced to prison.

So how do some of the best art dealers, curators, and collectors get fleeced by con artists? In many cases, it’s precisely because they’re experts, according to Noah Charney, author of The Art of Forgery. The majority of successful forgers that Charney describes “set a trap without being too specific,” where an art professional gets to “enthusiastically authenticate” and uncover a new piece of work by a Mark Rothko or a Robert Motherwell, so it feels like a personal triumph. And once an expert “goes out on a limb” and verifies a painting, it’s virtually impossible for them to psychologically backtrack. Let’s be honest,” he said, “every art historian wants to be Indiana Jones and wants to find lost treasures.”

In fact, a paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that too much expertise can negatively impact a person’s judgment when it comes to comparing two products. "There is a blanket assumption that knowledge and expertise are always good," says Ravi Mehta, business professor at the University of Illinois and the study’s co-author. "What we show is that it's not always true. Expertise is a double-edge sword." Some scientists call this the paradox of expertise.

At the same time, if a fake is good enough to fool the art doyens, maybe it really should be hanging in a museum. At least that’s what prominent art critic Blake Gopnik argued when he praised forgeries for sometimes giving the world artworks that great artists simply never got around to making.


Source material from Ny Magazine: Science of Us


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