Internationaler Kunstkritikerverband, Sektion der BRD

On the Cologne Art Forgery Trial

It is highly vexing that, during his trial in Cologne, the counterfeiter Wolfgang Beltracchi was allowed to bask in his (alleged) talent, not only thanks to the words of his defender, who said it was a shame that Beltracchi did not put his "considerable talent to use in the service of art."
Yes, why didn't he? To be a talented painter is one thing. It's something else entirely to develop one's own distinctive, creative concept and signature, something yet unknown in the art world. There might be thousands (I repeat: thousands) of well-trained painters in Germany who, like Beltracchi, are capable of copying or counterfeiting paintings by Pechstein, Max Ernst, Campendonk, or whomever.
But a talent for painting alone is not enough, if the art is to be appreciated or even has the pretense of becoming a part of art history. There needs to be a new worldview, a new order of design, a different painting structure than that which has come before. And even if a painter is capable of creating this new world in his or her work, it often takes half an artist's life before this is generally seen and accepted. Many experts even have difficulty seeing that which is new, because they gauge things by their old standards, perhaps without realizing it.
Sometimes art is ultimately the "perseverance of an artist's survivors," as the Cologne painter Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936) once ironically put it.
Art-counterfeiters are usually very good craftsmen; otherwise they wouldn't risk such actions. What they're missing is either the fortitude to pursue what is new, or they want to avoid the arduous path of fighting for public recognition. With forgery, they also miss out on public recognition, of course (unless they are constantly praised during their trial), but the great amount of money they are able to rake in with their counterfeit pieces seems to be compensation enough for having to work behind closed doors.
With regard to the positive nature of the professional opinions Beltracchi received for his forgeries, it could be said that authors of catalogs raisonné are not necessarily suitable experts when it comes to exposing a counterfeit. They endeavor greatly for long periods to locate lost works by their artists. Therefore, there exists an inner conflict between a critical view of the artwork presented and a desire to fill gaps in their catalog raisonné. 


Cologne, Oktober 2011
Walter Vitt

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