There's a very interesting installation which has just opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London - a lovely little gallery which I last visited a few years ago to see the Salvator Rosa exhibition in September 2010.
(Dulwich was the first purpose built art gallery, opening in 1811. And it has a mighty fine tea room.)
This installation is the idea of a conceptual artist, Doug Fishbone, who ordered a copy of one of the galleries original works of art from one of the Chinese art copying factories.
Here it is being wheeled into place in the gallery.
It's up to visitors to spot the fake. Will they?
More than that, how will people react? Does putting a Chinese replica in a Western gallery legitimise it as 'real art'? What is a 'fake'? If it provokes the same sort of feelings, emotions, reactions in us as a 'real' painting, doesn't that mean it's real too? If we then know it's a fake, do we feel 'conned'? If so, why? Who's conned us?
Or does that actually mean that a 'real' painting is to do with something genuine in the mindset of the artist, an energy, an integrity, the spark of talent and originality, the truthfulness of the intention of the person who created it - which we don't actually know anything concretely about most of the time, and we only get a 'sense' of by looking at a painting. Does the talent of the painter give a painting something like a soul, an energy which we as viewers perceive and react to?
And what's the difference between something which has been made with the desire to create a 'genuine' emotion in the viewer, and one which has been concocted to create a calculated 'fake' removed emotion, (ie kitsch - think Vettriano - 'Wow, there's a badly painted woman in her underwear. Stuck together in a room with the figure of a guy smoking a cigarette that's been copied out of a book. That adds up to saucy!!').
And what if you buy a fake genuinely thinking that it's a real piece of art because you can't tell the difference, or more importantly, don't care if there IS a difference?
Oh, what a tangled web we weave...
Now, there's five million replicas a year produced in China's Dafen Village copying outlet alone. So that's a whole lot of fakes out there, and five million perfectly happy people looking at them.
There's even a place in the far east that's banging out MY paintings.. have a look HERE.
This one at Dulwich cost £79, and visitors are invited to spot it amongst the 270 paintings on permanent exhibition, before the real fake is revealed in April.
Of course, the complication is that by Mr Conceptual Artist making this fake piece of art into a piece of conceptual art, he is adding a layer - the person who painted the fake in China had no idea that he/she was becoming involved in a piece of conceptual art, but Mr Fishbone has then taken the object, and by putting it in the gallery in order to question the validity of art, has actually imbued the object with artistic meaning. He's made it into art. What were you thinking!!
Hmmm... so there's the conundrum. So does that validate the fake art as real art? And does that then invalidate the whole spot-the-fake thing, I ask? Because it's now actually spot-the-thought-provoking-installation, not spot-the-fake.
And what happens to the fake painting once the installation is over? Is it 'the painting that was in show at Dulwich as the 'Made in China' installation by Doug Fishbone'? Does that give it a market value of more than £79? And who is it by now? Is it actually a genuine piece by Mr Fishbone rather than an anonymous Chinese fake?
Sadly, I won't be able to make it to Dulwich when I'm down in London for my show, but it would be fun to have a look....