The Fascination with Forgeries

In an Upper East Side gallery sits a rare art exhibition: It’s about mastery, authorship, and identity, but not in the way most have come to consider those topics in art. This particular exhibit focuses on forgery.

Image of forged art from "Holly Hoaxes" organized by Graduate Center student Kristen Ranciello"Crusader Knights Purchasing the Bones of a Saint (P95)," The Spanish Forger, Paris, 1st quarter 20th century

“The question of forgery comes up all the time in the art world,” says Ph.D. student Kristen Racaniello (Art History), who helped organize the show. “There’s always a question of authorship in any kind of art industry, whether you’re in the gallery side or the museum side or the academic side of it.”
Holy Hoaxes: a Beautiful Deception” at Les Enluminures brings together forgeries of illuminated manuscripts, paintings, panels, and more. Each object was culled from the collection of William Voelkle, curator emeritus of medieval and renaissance manuscripts at The Morgan Library & Museum. Included in that collection are several pieces from the famed Spanish Forger, who was the subject of a show at the Morgan in the 1970s.
Racaniello spoke with The Graduate Center about her involvement in the exhibition and why forgeries continue to be such a fascinating subject.
Graduate Center: What prompted this project?
Racaniello: The fact that the gallery has had such a close relationship with William Voelkle. He’s been coming to everything that we’ve had since we opened the New York office. He has an extensive collection, not just of forgeries, and I think the idea came about because he wanted to organize his collection.
GC: Why are forgeries so fascinating?
Racaniello: I think they touch on every single thing that art is interested in: They’re about the market and identity and technique. It’s a form of reproduction that’s heavily craft intensive, which is interesting because often reproduction is thought of as a product of an industrial age, but forgery is associated with the hand. There’s something about the ability to look back and expertly use techniques from the past.
GC: How can you tell a piece of art is a forgery?
Racaniello: This show focuses only on manuscript illuminations as forgeries. It’s the first exhibition we know of that’s focusing specifically on the forgery of manuscript leaves and manuscripts in general. What often ends up happening is [the leaves] have been scraped out. There’s an old page that had no image on it, but then they scraped down the section where they wanted to put an image and painted over it.
There’s an interesting parallel between art forgeries and meme culture nowadays.
Yes, I think about it with Instagram. There are artists taking other people’s artwork and putting it on their Instagram, and saying it’s theirs, or who are taking someone’s artwork and remaking it almost exactly, and putting it on their Instagram. Memes are definitely an interesting phenomenon right now.
How did you end up at Les Enluminures?
I did my master’s at Hunter with Cynthia Hahn. There was a job opening here, and I interviewed for it, but I didn’t get it because I could only work part-time. Two years later, they reached back out because they liked the interview, and realized that they did need somebody to be here just two days a week. It’s great because it’s really flexible.
It seems like fantastic experience while you’re working toward your doctorate.
I get to work with real objects, which is what I always wanted to do. Here we specialize in not just manuscript illumination, but also small-scale sculpture, so jewelry and processional sculpture. I also love books. I’m an academic, it’s hard not to love books, so getting to be around some of the earliest manuscripts that still exist today is just amazing for me.
The “Holy Hoaxes” exhibition is currently on view by appointment and will reopen to the public at the beginning of March with drop-in hours of 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Submitted on: FEB 8, 2019

Category: Art History | General GC News | Student News