When visiting any art gallery, the sophisticated viewer is not usually seeking out the inferior copy of a work; the idea of a fake painting in an art museum isn’t usually desirable. But in artist Doug Fishbone’s latest project ‘Made in China’, which is being hosted by the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London, the idea is the linchpin of a months-long conceptual investigation into aura, institutional authority, and the highly-codified ritual of the museum visit.
Fishbone, an American-born, London-based artist has commissioned a replica of one of the many Old Masters artworks in the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s collection. The collection features pieces by Rubens, Titian, and Gainsborough, among others. Executed by a Xiamen, China-based company specialised in oil painting, the copy will then be put in place of the original and hang in the same location in the gallery from February 3 to July 26, 2015. It will then be up to Members of the public, who will be invited in, to guess which painting isn’t the real deal.
“This is a quiet project, but it raises all sorts of broader questions: how do we interact with culture in our institutions; what does the exhibition context bestow on an object?” The artist told the press.
“I’m hoping that it will encourage people to look with much greater focus and with a heightened sense of awareness at the actual artworks,” he adds. “When you walk into a collection with a large amount of paintings, it’s very easy to gloss over everything quickly and to take it all in as a kind of vista.” Fishbone nonetheless touches a sore point for museums worldwide and concludes. “We are not trying to pull a little stunt,” he insists.
Swapping an original with a fake is a technique often used by thieves hoping to delay the discovery of their misdeed. The highly-publicised story of Henri Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Pants, stolen and replaced by a copy, which hung unsuspected for months at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber in Venezuela is a case in point. The recovered Matisse and its forgery displayed together for the first time in Venezuela; the original back on display alongside the inferior copy that was left behind by thieves. The painting was returned to Venezuela last summer, after being missing for nearly 15 years – but the details of the return are shrouded in mystery.
“It’s the idea of inserting something in a context and seeing what that opens up,” explains the artist. The title of the fake painting will be revealed next April.