Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Faking It

Up to forty percent of artworks being bought and sold are fakes. So I learned while listening to an interview with the author of Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art.

While waiting for my library request for this book to go through, I came across this article about a man who proposes to authenticate art through fingerprinting. Thus, when the book arrived last week, I was primed to read more about the art underworld.

Provenance, by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo, opens with the dramatis personae. Topping the list are John Drewe, mastermind, and John Myatt, painter. Together they attempted to pull off a scheme that duped art dealers, archivists, and collectors. Myatt painted the “Giocomettis” and “Turners.” Drewe created the provenance for each work. Like one of the detectives in the case, I too was not familiar with this term.

Provenance refers to the documents that track an artwork’s history of ownership. Comprised of receipts, invoices, letters, and catalogs, the provenance not only authenticates a piece but affects the value. If someone can prove a work belonged to a celebrity or was scandalously stolen and retrieved, he can negotiate a higher price for it.

Here’s how the scheme worked. After commissioning a work from Myatt, Drewe created meticulous documents to show records of ownership from the painting’s supposed inception to the most recent deal. He slipped mock catalogs into archives at institutions such as the Tate Gallery and changed sales records. He made stamps and insignias for documents. He doctored canvases to age them and used period wood for the framing. And he made thousands from unwitting dealers and collectors.

But in the end Drewe was framed – by an ex. Just as fascinating as the heist is the unraveling of the operation by the detectives and skeptical archivists. To the end, Drewe proves just as adept at feigning health problems as he was in forging gallery invoices to postpone his trial. He acts as his own counsel and weaves in arms dealing and government conspiracy to prolong the trial.

Ultimately, both men end up serving time for their deception. Though it is not made clear what Drewe is up to these days besides media interviews, his tools have ended up in Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum. Myatt, much more repentant, appears to be doing quite well by selling Genuine Fakes and starring in his own TV series.

As the book asserts, maybe crime does pay. Or at least pave the way to infamy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grace and Will

In a land of seven kingdoms lives a young woman graced with powers to kill. On a secret mission for the Council to rescue an elder Lienid, she encounters a young man graced with fighting. Thus begins the young adult novel Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

Katsa is successful in her mission of mercy but soon tires of the killing missions her uncle, King of the Middluns, sets for her. Tired of feeling powerless, she leaves the court with Po, the Lienid fighter of her mercy mission. They set out to discover the mastermind behind his grandfather’s kidnapping.

This page turner packs in plenty of adrenaline-fueled battles, harrowing passages through harsh environments, and tension fraught love scenes. Although Katsa and Po set out to uncover the mystery of his grandfather’s capture, they end up revealing their true Graces.

Another young adult novel I opened recently, Perry Moore’s Hero, opens on a different kind of battle field - the basketball court. We learn that Thom Creed is a typical teenager. When he’s not playing defense, he tries to get along with his father (his mother having disappeared), get to work on time, and daydream about his favorite superhero, Uberman.

Turns out that Thom not only lives in a town that has a League of superheroes, but his father used to be one. And that mother who disappeared? That wasn’t a figure of speech. After Thom begins mysteriously healing people, he’s invited to try out for the League. As most superheroes do, Thom begins living a double-life. His is made a tad more complicated since he not only has to hide his daring-do from his father, but his sexual preference as well. Luckily, a young renegade named the Dark Hero comes to his rescue.

Although the two novels differ in setting and tone, they both examine the trials of coming of age. Not only do these characters learn to control their passions, but more importantly they learn not to fear them. Even those of us not graced with supernatural powers can find that lesson empowering.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Espresso Yourself

I've always wanted to go to art school. Then I'd have an excuse to dye my hair purple and wear vintage lingerie. And take pictures like Sandra Juto.

Now I know where I went wrong. If you are an aspiring artiste, you have to drink coffee. Or serve it. At least this is what I gleaned from two young adult novels I read recently.

Same Difference by Siohban Vivian follows Emily from her safe suburban Starbucks hangout to summer art school in Philadelphia. After meeting a few creative types in her classes, she starts painting dead kitties on her J.Crew tanks and ditching her best friend. She soon discovers it's easier to mix media in her artwork than in her life.

The next novel, The Espressologist by Kristina Springer, has Jane whipping up a few frappycaps in hopes of collecting enough tips to go to this place. In the meantime, she jots down drink orders and the types that order them. (Can't you just picture that frazzled woman who orders a tall iced chamomile tea?) Jane takes it a step further and starts matching her customers based on their drink preferences. Sadly, finding her own love match becomes grounds for betrayal.

Pass me that camera, would you? I'm off to order a ventiwholemilkwithwhip mocha - for my soul mate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From the Top

Recently I spent the afternoon reading back issues of Dance Magazine while waiting for my daughter, who at 5 is taking her first ballet and tap class. As I flipped through the pages advertising dancewear and workshops, I wondered why 1) I don’t dance anymore and 2) I had let my collection of dance books (A Very Young Dancer, Winter Season, Holding On to the Air) gather dust on my bookshelf.

Apart from an occasional ticket to a Titus performance or Google image search for White-Nights-era Baryshnikov, I realized I’d ignored the dance world for over fifteen years. In chagrin, I turned to Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Acocella.

Acocella, a critic for The New Yorker, has compiled a collection of essays on dancers, writers, and yes, a couple of saints. Here’s a sample of the fascinating figures inside:
Open to the tragic story of Lucia Joyce (James’ daughter), an aspiring dancer who eventually ends up not in the spotlight but in a straitjacket.

A few essays later, read about Vaslav Nijinksy. His ballets, staged in the nineteen teens, were among the first to deal openly with sex on the stage and relied on Stravinsky for the score.

Then meet the man responsible for American ballet as we know it, Lincoln Kirstein. He, along with George Balanchine, was responsible for founding The School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet.

Sadly, the library’s copy is due back soon and I have yet to read about Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, or Twyla Tharp. Looks like I may have to make room in my permanent collection for a new acquisition. Oh, and look into that Mommy and Me merengue class.