Friday, March 9, 2012


Do you have a dream job?  Maybe you would say that you're already working at your dream job, but if you're like me, you have the kind of dream job (or more than one) that can only ever remain in the realm of fiction and fantasy.  I like dreaming, among other things, that I have a job as a international front-line journalist, but it's not the kind of dream that I would ever want to come true; I don't want to wake up and find myself in the crossfire of battling partisans, fearing for my safety as I try to understand the situation.

Yesterday, I heard of the most wonderful dream job, and I've spent the past 24 hours imagining it.

Picture this: It's a job that requires a lot of creativity.  Every day new and interesting challenges come up.  The job requires one to work very closely with art, to critically study art history, as well as be good at painting.  One works closely with one's family and friends.

It sounds like heaven.  But (for me at least), this job I'm thinking of can never be more than a fantasy, because it has the rather glaring problem of being illegal.  It is art forgery.

In October 2011, Wolfgang Beltracchi was found guilty of some major cases of art forgery and sentenced to six years in prison.  (His guilty plea kept the sentence from being longer).  His wife, sister and best friend were sentenced to similar terms for working with him.

Beltracchi and his gang pretended to own paintings by famous German Expressionist artists.  In order to sell them for hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said that the works were hitherto unknown, and had belonged to his wife's grandfather until she inherited them on his death.  The Beltracchi gang took great pains to make fake documents, signatures and old-looking photographs to prove the authenticity of the paintings, when Beltracchi had in fact painted them himself, in the style of the German Expressionists.  It is interesting that he did not copy specific works as much as create his own new works in the style of famous artists, and pass them off as the work of these artists.  It is also interesting that the group's fakes were for decades passing through the (apparently not so) scrupulous evaluation of professionals trained to sniff out forgeries.

Wolfgang Beltracchi, Forgery meant to look like a Painting by Max Ernst

The German newspaper Spiegel's coverage of the trial pointed out that this whole process has some major implications for the future of the art market.  "[Beltracchi] has helped expose the absurdity of the art market, in which paintings ostensibly by famous artists are traded almost always as speculative investments. It is not the aesthetic value of a painting which decides whether it is worth millions, but the question of whether it was produced by a known and fashionable artist.  Beltracchi also demonstrated how experts and art dealers driven by greed and vanity could declare forged paintings genuine without hesitation. That in itself provoked some sympathetic coverage from journalists following the case -- the victims who were duped were not poor pensioners, but greedy art dealers and super-rich collectors." Here's the link to the rest of the article.

If you're interested in this story, I found a really well-done article about the topic on this blog.  I think that especially in the blogger's responses in the comments section she makes some insightful points. 


  1. The legal version of that job is just being an artist. A little harder to make millions when you aren't famous...but not impossible to make a living.

    1. I think being an artist requires a slightly different type of creativity. As an art forger, you need to learn deeply about the vision, style and motivation of an earlier artist and do your best to replicate this. As an artist, you would have to come up with your own vision and style. For my dream job, I think would rather have the vision and style mostly already developed for me.