Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Made In China

'Made In China' . . . the inscription crops up everywhere, on our desks, in our cupboards, on our shelves.  But, I wonder if you've heard of a surprising aspect of this success story?

Did you know that the Chinese have turned their talents to producing replicas of famous paintings?

The village of Dafen, in Southern China, is home to countless art workshops where industrious artists produce over five million canvases a year.  They are copying Old Masters to satisfy an accelerating demand.

Have any of these fake paintings travelled to the UK?  Most definitely.  What's more, you can see one for yourself . . . although, in all probability, you'll have difficulty knowing which it is.

At Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, a fake from China, purchased for £80 (including postage), now hangs on the wall alongside its priceless companions.
The identity of this fake painting will be revealed on April 26th.  On July 26th  the genuine Old Master will be returned to its original position.

The reason for this subterfuge?
It's the brainchild of the American conceptual artist, Doug Fishbone.  A project which he hopes will bring an additional nuance to the experience of visiting the Gallery.

Yes, it's a trick . . . a trick that might be frowned upon by dedicated art-lovers.
However, people are hurrying to Dulwich, eager to see if they can spot the fake.

But is that all there is to the experiment?
Amongst other things, there's the question of value.  What if the two pictures are well-nigh identical . . . one that is priceless, the other costing a mere £80?
Does the value of the original now lie in more than the merely visual . . . does it rest in culture, in tradition, and in availability?
And how does that tally with the fact that it was the visible alone that brought it recognition in the first place?

There again, when you study a painting in the knowledge that it could be a fake, surely you look at it with different eyes?
You are no longer reverential, instead you are questioning.
You are no longer assuming that you are gazing at sublime artistry, instead you are studying the brushwork with a critical eye.

It looks like a familiar Old Master . . . but is it genuine?
Could it be new . . . ?  And what do we mean by genuine . . . ?
Can we, perhaps, recognise the genuine through the intuitive heart rather than the analytical brain?
In short, when we study the picture we're looking, rather than merely seeing . . . and is that such a bad thing?

Thinking about this, it struck me that I prejudge all too often.  Perhaps you do too.

I find myself looking at people, objects and ideas not for what's there, but for what I'm expecting to see . . .  accepting or discarding them in accordance with my own past conclusions, or what I've been told.
What a fine film, I'll say to myself . . . how lucky I read the reviews.

No-one can have failed to notice the General Election looming on the horizon.  But could this, I wonder, be an opportunity to put the Dulwich experiment into action?

Each candidate will be housed in an authentic 'frame', but the question still remains:  is he or she little more than a copy 'made in China', or are we fortunate in having the genuine article?

Rather like those visitors to the Gallery, we're all in search of authenticity.
The nation needs it . . . let's make sure we find it!