Art and the Man

Not that you ASKED for any more of my autobiography, but I can hear you out there panting. You need something when there’s no new Lindsay Lohan retrospective.

Well, just to hold you until Sweeps Week, it will probably bore you balmy to know that I once dabbled in Art History. I spent a semester in college doing a paper on French Rococo artist Francois Boucher, the fellow Denis Diderot dismissed as “a painter of breasts and buttocks”. What’s that? Even if I don’t know art, I know what I…yes, thank you. I heard that from one of the prof…actually, I heard it from ALL the professors that semester. Academic humor can be comforting in its unanimity.

It was just a digression from the studies I was pursuing to become a Book Fair Manager and Blogger one day. If I had known I would actually need to use that information, I might have paid attention while I was writing. (Sometimes I don’t; this allows me to experience the same awe at my brilliance which other people feel on coming upon it for the first time. I’ve told you about making those faces.)

But people who donate books often donate artwork as well. Over the years I have had to guess at the authenticity of a Hiroshige print (I guessed genuine, and someone who actually knew about it agreed with me), a John Gacy painting (fake, I think, but experts in this field are hard to find), a Roy Lichtenstein print (I say real, but the experts are still out), and, so far, five sketches by five different modern artists I’d never heard of. Four of these were inscribed to the owner of the Chicago art gallery that sold their stuff, so I figure they’re real. The fifth came with a printout of its eBay listing: what more could you want by way of authentication?

The Pascin and the Giacometti lithographs came with certificates of authenticity, but I had to work on the Chagalls. The owner of the Picasso brought his own research, and…let me tell you why I really prefer to work with books.

That first edition of Moby Dick is rare, and people have been working for a century to figure out ways to tell a first from a phony. Hundreds of copies were printed, so there’s a chance you might find one, and they want you to be able to figure out if you’ve got the original Ishmael. This a) proves how clever they are and how much work they’ve done and b) means you don’t have to waste their valuable time asking them about it.

Meanwhile, in the art world, methods of distinguishing a genuine Rembrandt are not as readily passed around. There’s only one example of each painting, and nobody wants you coming along and saying, “That’s a fake!” A good art dealer will tell you the evidence proving a painting is the real thing if it looks like you’re going to buy it, but is otherwise generally quiet about the matter otherwise. While I was looking for information on that Lichtenstein print, for example, I found one gallery asking $75,000 for a copy which three other galleries said was a forgery. (THEIR copies were completely genuine, of course.) The first gallery was mum about how to tell the real thing.

When I found a book autographed by Jack Dempsey, it was really simple: I could go on line and find a hundred other Dempsey autographs in about fifteen minutes. Life was good; books are easier. That’s why I don’t run an Art Fair.

(Please do not let this keep you from passing along those little pastels by Boucher your grandmother gave you. I’ll take my vitamins and try to get by.)

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