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“F” is for Fake, Forgery… Fun?

Throughout history there have been great masters of art that have been revered either during their lifetime or afterwards. And there have been individuals that used those masters to profit for themselves: using not only others’ art, but their reputations as well. Both the original artists and the forgers that have lived these journeys and created artistic masterpieces, are filled with mystery and fascinating facts to learn.

Yesterday at Widener University, members of the community enjoyed an exciting and intriguing adventure into the world of art forgery and the chance to see personally the original remaining artifacts of the Alfred O. Deshong art collection. Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, visiting lecturer from SUNY Purchase University gave a lecture describing mystery and misguided adventure by forgers such as Elmyr de Hory, who not only carried a false name, but who also forged his entire life story! One member of the audience asked Dr. Taylor at the conclusion of his talk, what motivates a forger to attempt to profit from copying and then selling a piece of artwork under false pretenses. Dr. Taylor explained that many forgers are artists that have become embittered by their art not being recognized under their own name and who have learned and desired to corrupt the system of knowledge along with the system of art. This leads one to ask, what is the system of knowledge? What is the system surrounding art? What is art? Can it be quantified or qualified? How can an artist take pride that they can produce unique originals, or replicas, and not feel the need to take credit from another, but seek to gain the same revered reputation for their own original works? This experience reminded me of a verse written by one of our modern day artists, Macklemore: “The greats were great, not because they were born to paint; the greats were great because they’d paint a lot” (“10,000 Hours”). The forgers that were described believed they were born to paint. They still painted a lot, but for the wrong reasons.

After Dr. Jeffrey Taylor’s discussion, behind the scenes tours of the Deshong exhibit, now held in the Widener University art gallery were shown to all visitors interested in seeing the masterpieces of classical 18th and 19th Century European paintings and Japanese and Chinese pottery collection that still remain. Upon his death in 1913, Alfred Deshong, a native of Chester, Pennsylvania, willed all of his earthly belongings including his mansion, his land, and his vast art collection to the city in which he was born, raised and thrived. Some of the collection is still missing, however the fact that Deshong loved art and loved the city of Chester, is still very evident. This experience was one that was filled with interesting facts about mysterious artists, and a chance to view masterpieces that were not forged, but done out of genuine interest in producing art that might stand the test of time. Art of the 18th Century is just as poignant as art today. In both times, it has the natural capacity to bring individuals together, and allow them to enjoy an afternoon wondering about the mysteries that are happening around us all every day; this event makes you question: is what you believe true or has that truth been corrupted? How do we find pride in our own identities?

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