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The Artist Beneath the Art Forger – The New York Times

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ST. PETER, Minn. — Mark Forgy’s home on the outskirts of Minneapolis looks like a museum. Works of art hang floor-to-ceiling. They hang in stairwells, in closets and behind doors. In the living room, a bronze bust of the artist who made all these pieces smirks slightly from the corner, admiring his work: a Matisse, a Modigliani, a handful of Picassos.

Mr. Forgy owns the largest collection of work by Elmyr de Hory, one of the most notorious art forgers of the 20th century. In the 1950s and ’60s, de Hory is believed to have forged over a thousand works by major artists. Many have been removed from museums. Others, some experts say, have not.

Mr. Forgy has spent years dedicated to the memory of de Hory. He has written a book, gives talks and contributes to exhibitions on forgery. It is his calling, he says, and has all led to his newest endeavor: putting on an exhibition of de Hory’s original work. No forgeries. Just de Hory in his own voice.

“It’s work trying to be no one other than himself,” said Mr. Forgy. “There’s no pretense.”

The exhibition, at the Hillstrom Museum of Art in St. Peter, Minn., focuses on de Hory’s portraiture. Now, more than four decades after the painter’s death, viewers can “leave behind the sensational tabloid-worthiness of his story,” Mr. Forgy said. It is the first glimpse at the artist underneath the forger.

Credit…Philadelphia Museum of Art
Credit…Elmyr de Hory

Throughout his life de Hory struggled to inspire interest in his own work. A Hungarian artist, he came to the United States in August 1947, and by January 1948 he exhibited some work at Lilienfeld Galleries in New York. ARTNews described it as striking “the well-known chord of the School of Paris.” In a city exploding with the modernity of Abstract Expressionism, this meant “nice but old-fashioned.” De Hory sold only one. He blamed the opening night’s heavy January snowfall.

De Hory had, however, sold a handful of forgeries in Europe. Over the next decade, he traveled America and impersonated an aristocrat fallen on hard times after the war. He sold forgeries in the style of some artists who were still alive — Picasso and Matisse — and created so many forgeries of Amedeo Modigliani that it has become impossible to compile a definitive catalog of the artist’s work, according to Kenneth Wayne, director of The Modigliani Project.

Several hundred forgeries later, a handful of dealers caught on to him, told the authorities and ran him out of the country.

When Mr. Forgy met de Hory, it was on the beach of the Spanish island Ibiza, in 1969. A series of recent scandals had connected de Hory to forgeries in the U.S. and France. Yet, in Spain he was safe from consequences. So he embraced his new persona: the great forger who had fooled the art world. De Hory teamed up with the novelist Clifford Irving, who, taking de Hory’s exaggerations and inventions at face value, wrote a best-selling biography of the forger, “FAKE!” (Irving’s next project was a fraudulent autobiography of Howard Hughes, which landed him in jail.)

Into this era of mythmaking stepped the 20-year old Mr. Forgy. The two became close, and with its four-decade age gap, their friendship resembled that of teacher and student. De Hory would give etiquette lessons for royal company (the correct manner to kiss a princess’s hand) and regular tests on art history (“When did Botticelli live?”).

“He was more of a father than my actual father,” said Mr. Forgy, now 70. “He was concerned with my future.”

In his lectures on art, Mr. Forgy said, “Elmyr was always attempting mightily to champion the intrinsic merit of art as opposed to having a name tag on it.” He hated the market’s obsession with famous names. De Hory also made it clear that if his works could pass for original that made them, and him, as good as the greats.

After six years together, however, their friendship came to an end. De Hory was battling a new extradition request to France. When the news came that the extradition had been granted, Mr. Forgy was the one who told de Hory. On Dec. 11, 1976, de Hory killed himself.

He left everything to Mr. Forgy, who returned to Minnesota with around 300 of de Hory’s works. For decades he fell silent and moved on. Only in 2007 did he begin a memoir. After he self-published it in 2012, he adapted it into a play and then a musical. A new purpose for himself took shape as the caretaker of de Hory’s legacy. Mr. Forgy lent works to exhibitions on art forgery and recounted the story of the lovable rascal whose mischief turned the art world upside down. People found the story irresistible. Some were so intoxicated by it that a small market emerged for de Hory’s forgeries and pastiches. Mr. Forgy said that in 2014 a de Hory in the style of Matisse sold for $28,000. Other pieces have gone for a few thousand or hundred.

Mr. Forgy now believes this new exhibition can bring de Hory the recognition he sought during his life. The paintings were done in Ibiza and many are quick snapshots of friends, including several of Mr. Forgy. Some are unfinished or pulled from de Hory’s sketchbook. The variety of styles is striking. There are many that evoke the artists he forged. The playful simplicity of some of his drawing wobbles between channeling and being derivative of Matisse.

Julia Courtney, who co-curated an exhibition of forgeries at the Springfield Museums in Massachusetts, said she could see in de Hory’s work his affinity with Modigliani. A similar tendency to elongate the features might point to why de Hory turned to Modigliani so often when forging.

“His original work really opens up the door to who he was,” Ms. Courtney said. “There’s confidence in his line, shading. There’s a level of skill that’s apparent. Seeing the artist’s hand, that is sort of timeless.”

Some pieces are experimental and darkly stylized while others are naturalistic and melancholy, nodding to Albrecht Dürer. These are styles he never attempted, or felt confident enough, to forge.

De Hory’s variety of style is at once an indication of talent as well as his uncertainty. After a life of impersonation and lying about himself (including to Forgy — about, among other things, his name), it is difficult to pin de Hory down in his own work.

“The virtue of originality is overestimated,” Mr. Forgy insisted. Once when he asked de Hory if he felt he lacked any artistic tools, the older man said, “Maybe imagination.” But de Hory was original and imaginative in what he did through storytelling and sleight of hand, which exploited a specific moment in art history. That is an innovation few reach.

Gene Shapiro of Shapiro Auctions in New York says his story has value for museumgoers and collectors alike: “He’s infamous but he is a name that people will recognize. A collector, for example, may be proud to own his works and tell his story.”

The opening night at Hillstrom Museum of Art was a modest event. Like New York’s January in 1948, Minnesota’s February snowfall prevented many from making the drive up to the Gustavus Adolphus College campus, where the museum is located. But Mr. Forgy was ecstatic. “I’m finally paying the ultimate tribute to my friend,” he said.

The most revealing painting is perhaps de Hory’s self-portrait. Dark and haunted with opaque eyes, it is unfinished. The uncertainty with how to ultimately portray himself is perhaps de Hory at his most human, and his most honest.


The Secret World of Art Forger Elmyr de Hory: His Portraiture on Ibiza

Through April 19 at the Hillstrom Museum of Art, Gustavus Adolphus College, 800 West College Avenue, St. Peter, Minn.; 507-933-7200; gustavus.edu/finearts/hillstrom.

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Have art prizes had their day – Apollo Magazine

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Have art prizes had their day? | Apollo Magazine

24 February 2020

The decision to split the 2019 Turner Prize between the four shortlisted artists has divided critics. Do such subversive gestures divest prizes of their power, or open up new ways of judging contemporary art? 

Harry Thorne

No prize is an honour,’ wrote Thomas Bernhard, ‘the honour is perverse.’ In My Prizes: An Accounting (2010), a collection of the author’s musings on his relationship to, and vast collection of, literary awards, he spits bile at ‘so-called’ cultural prizes and the ‘feeble-witted’ judges who preside over them; at the ‘vanity, self-prettying and hypocrisy’ of it all.

Which is to say, the hypocrisy in which he himself became embroiled: ‘I remained too weak in all the years that prizes came my way, to say No. […] I despised the people who were giving the prizes but I didn’t strictly refuse the prizes themselves. It was all offensive, but I found myself the most offensive of all.’

Cultural awards are contradictory by nature. They can be era-defining, career-defining, canonising (for better or worse – often worse), yet they are broadly acknowledged to be false indicators of accomplishment. Whether or not we agree with the results, can we accept that ‘merit’, ‘quality’ and ‘achievement’ can be evaluated against a designed criteria? Or, more crucially, should we?

Such questions are enduring. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre explained his rejection of the Nobel Prize in Literature with the comment: ‘The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution.’ In recent years, however, these questions have grown louder and more frequent, with creative figures pushing back against the institutions attempting to recognise their work – or, more accurately, against the processes being employed to do so.

In 2019, the Booker Prize twisted its own rules to celebrate two novels, by Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, a controversial decision that saw detractors note how the first black woman to win the prestigious award had been forced to share it. That same year, the four artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize (Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani) announced that they would only accept the award as a collective. ‘We feel strongly motivated to […] make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity,’ read Cammock at the presentation ceremony, ‘in art as in society.’

Cammock clarified: ‘If there’s any kind of concerns that we’re somehow undermining the prize, it’s exactly the opposite.’ But undermined it has been. As with the numerous high-profile artists who have chosen to share their awards of late, the Turner Prize verdict (or the judges’ immediate acceptance of it) is indicative of a power shift. Faith in prestigious cultural institutions is wavering. In and of itself, this is no bad thing: institutions should push, and be pushed, to faithfully reflect the communities that they represent and, as such, their systems of evaluation should repeatedly be called into question. But the suggestion that the accepting of an award amounts to an endorsement of societal inequality sets a worrying precedent.

For the likes of Murillo and Abu Hamdan, the latter of whom was awarded the Edvard Munch Prize days after the Turner Prize announcement, the exchanging of capital proper for cultural capital might make financial sense, given the market value of their work. For others, however, the monetary value of an award (the Turner prize comes with £25,000) might prove far more beneficial than the figurative pats on the back that they might receive were they to publicly denounce said award. But denounce they might, because, were they not to do so, they would be indirectly opposing ‘commonality, multiplicity and solidarity’.

There are additional considerations when thinking about the opportunities awards create. What of the few prizes that recognise early-career artists (New Contemporaries), regional arts organisations (Museum of the Year), mid-career women artists (the Freelands Award) or ambitious video projects (Jerwood/FVU Awards)? But our changing attitude towards art awards also signals a more abstract threat: a crisis of criticism.

To declare that certain bodies of work are exempt from judgement is to deny that culture, as a whole, is built upon judgement. When we interact with art, literature, or music, for example, we assess it in relation to all that we have experienced before. To assert that, out of respect for an art form’s subject or intent, it is excused from subjective critical evaluation is to reject that truth and delegitimise criticism as a practice.

If, as Cammock suggested, art is bound to society, then so too is judgement. In our contemporary age, cursed as it is, we must strive to protect both – however perverse they might seem.

Harry Thorne is a writer, editor and critic based in London.

Alistair Hudson

The Turner Prize is firmly established as the principal prize in the art calendar and is fully engrained in the public psyche. It has regularly introduced the general public to the current state of contemporary art, facilitated by an association perfected over the years between media and institution. The success of the prize has come in part from its capacity to shock: an unmade bed, a potter not a painter, architects not artists, a pickled calf or a bum-hole doorway.

Last year in Margate the shock came not from the art but the announcement itself. Artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani chose to share the prize ‘to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society’. The statement drew a standing ovation and seemed genuinely moving; in a time of division here was some unity. The gesture offered a challenge to the prize, or at least its integrity as a competitive sport.

Cue the ensuing debate. For some, this act of selflessness would change the prize for good, even bring it to an end, now that artists had unionised in this way. This might be the case, but I suspect not. An artist I was chatting with not long after confirmed that if they were nominated, they would not be sharing the prize with anyone.

My own jury service for the Turner Prize was in 2015 and resulted in the Assemble collective winning for their regeneration project with residents of the Granby Four Streets neighbourhood in Liverpool. The idea of a multidisciplinary group working outside the art market, or even something ‘not art at all’ triumphing, was seen then as a big challenge to the system. That other art worlds exist was not easy to digest. ‘You’ve broken art!’ someone said on the night. I reassured them that it would be business as usual next year, and it was.

The Turner’s resilience suggests that such art prizes still have a role to play, as long as we live in an age of spectacle. However, they belong to a time that is passing, one rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ‘exhibitionary’ moment. The emerging shift from mechanistic thinking to ecological thinking – or our habit of thinking about art in isolation from the world rather than as something that is connected to wider cultural or social frameworks – will bring with it a change in emphasis from product to process. We are already seeing the emergence of a more values-driven generation which is in turn driving a more values-based economy. The unionisation of last year’s Turner Prize winners hints at this, in turning the gaze from the prize itself to wider societal issues.

In this context art prizes must evolve so as to support and make visible the process of making art and its effect on the world. Concentrating attention on the singular image or object does not tell the full story of the role that art plays in our culture, reinforcing an idea of creativity complicit with the market rather than enriching a broader social capital. Now is the time to reassert art as a vital process that operates across education, social development, health and the broader economy.

There are some examples of this approach already in play. In recent years, the Artes Mundi prize has worked with the shortlisted artists on long-term commissions and projects in South Wales. The peripatetic Visible Award supports artists, chosen through a quasi-parliamentary public jury process,
to expand and deliver on their socially engaged practices. The point here is to engage with artistic projects that, in a radical and proactive way, are able to rethink our cities or rural communities, question education models and propose alternative models of economic development.

Both these formats exemplify how art prizes can be more open-ended, experimental and creative and less embedded in a singular perception of art as merely complicit in market and spectacle. I would welcome this further dissolution of art into the everyday, and suggest it is a viable approach for thinking about the future of art prizes.

Alistair Hudson is the director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery.

From the March 2020 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

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Western researchers give stories of trauma meaning through art – CBC.ca

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With the help of volunteer artists, two Western University professors turned a research project on cognitive behavioural therapy for women who had experienced trauma into visual art in an effort to give meaning to what usually becomes numbers in a study. 

Through the London Health Sciences Centre, the two professors conducted an intervention study looking at the effectiveness of PATH, a pilot project consisting of trauma and violence informed cognitive behavioural therapy for pregnant women who have experienced violence or abuse. 

“When you’re having a baby, there’s a lot of people touching your body and you don’t have a lot of control over it in that situation and if you’ve been through a violent relationship or you’ve experienced abuse that can be challenging and really triggering,” said health studies professor Tara Mantler, who co-investigated the project with nursing professor Kimberly Jackson. 

“This intervention gave the women their voices back and it got all the [health care] providers in the room to think about the way they treat women and by that, provide them with more autonomy, so they could better cope with the experience,” Mantler added. 

Jackson says the results of the pilot project were positive, but the funding for the program was eventually cut. And while they were able to share their work with researchers, they felt they needed to reach an audience beyond academia.  

The art pieces were created with four themes in mind: Deep Dark Corner, Breaking Through the Brokenness, Triggering My Thoughts and Now Perfectly Imperfect. The piece illustrated in this image is from the last theme, which depicts hope and optimism. (Submitted by Kimberly Jackson)

The two professors teamed up with Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy, a creative researcher at Brock University, who helped them transpose the women’s experiences through the program into works of art.

“The numbers tell an interesting story if you’re an academic, but we found that a lot of the meaning from the journey to recovery for these women was being lost. That’s why we wanted it to be visual,” said Mantler. 

Through reading the transcripts of each woman’s experience, O’Keefe-McCarthy created four artistic themes that were developed into poems, which laid the groundwork for visual artists to make ten art pieces. 

The opposing colour schemes in the art work represent the before (right) and after (left) of a traumatized pregnant woman’s journey to finding her self worth. (Submitted by Kimberly Jackson)

“It was important for us to have an embodied experience to have a glimpse into what the journey through the program was like for women,” Mantler said. 

The art illustrates the women’s transformation from trauma to healing as they went through their pregnancies with new coping mechanisms. 

Back in October, the research and artwork was showcased for the general public and the result was very gratifying, according to Jackson.

“We were overwhelmed with how moved people have been when they’ve seen the art, so for us it’s been amazing to bring the voices of these women to light in a very meaningful and powerful way,” she said. 

Those interested in seeing the work will still get a chance to do so during the Legacy 2020 research conference at Western University in May, but after that, the art will be auctioned off with all proceeds going to a women’s shelter. 

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The Art Warehouse Is My New Creative Obsession – Huddle Today

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SAINT JOHN – The cold weather and slippery sidewalks fail to deter patrons of The Art Warehouse on Prince William Street uptown creating art.

Since moving to Saint John last summer, I quickly became a hot chocolate aficionado and always had my ears perked up for spots to curl up an unwind in the city.

When I heard about the opening of a café/bar that would also be an art studio, offering the opportunity to flex one’s creativity while enjoying a hot drink or treat, I made a note to go as soon as it opened.

The front of the café was warm and cheerful with the hot drinks and alcoholic beverages painted on the wall behind the coffee bar with cozy window seats and tables available to sit and chat.

I bought my customary hot chocolate and treated myself to a cookie, enjoying the ambiance and paintings of fellow patrons on the walls before purchasing a small canvas.

The back of the building was set up with three rows of easels for patrons to sit down and try their hand at becoming the next Picasso, with small, medium, large and “pre-loved” canvases at their disposal. A gaggle of teenagers was busy drawing and painting while chatting among themselves.

Painting was very therapeutic to me as a child and I also had good memories of painting many clay pottery pieces at the Clay Café with my friends.

The paintbrushes, tiny glasses of water and huge containers of paint, where you can squeeze dollops of paint like condiments, felt so familiar and I soon let loose on my blank canvas.

The result was a rather abstract square of soothing, blues, greens and flecks of yellow instead of an object of scene. I had a blast mixing colours until they felt right to me and quickly remembered mixing too many colours together result in a brown sludge.

Before leaving, clutching my canvas so it wouldn’t be blown away by the wind, I learned from the Warehouse’s owner Hazel Cochran that they have acquired a liquor license. A delicious cocktail to have while painting my next “masterpiece” is more than enough to entice me back (and I have a feeling I will soon run out of wall space in my apartment…).

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