Is there anything more beautiful that a masterfully executed hoax? Is there a more cunning way to force a people to admit that they can be fooled? I think not.
There have been some wonderful hoaxes throughout history, though it would seem that the 20th century saw the creation of a new kind of hoax: one that is meant to be found out. There have been snake oil salesmen, artifact and art forgers and liars of all sorts as long as there has been a market. The normal theme, though, is to profit and get out before anyone suspects anything. Or better yet, to keep the hoax going and gain a following of believers.
An apparently modern twist is to purposely expose the hoax as a fraud after it has been successfully executed. The purposes of this are varied but normally involve some level of making the hoaxed look foolish and making the hoaxers feel brilliant.
What does this have to do with art? Well there is of course an art to creating a good hoax, but that's for another post. Today I want to look at some hoaxes perpetrated with fine art.
The Museum of Hoaxes has a rather nice repository of good art hoaxes and I want to talk about a couple. The first is the incident of Pierre Brussau. Pierre was a modern artist working in the early 1960s in a non-representational or abstract, modern style. He was also a chimpanzee. His work was shown in an art show in sweden to rave reviews. The whole endeavour was to expose the fact that the abstract style couldn't be analyzed meaningfully by art critics. It showed that it was basically arbitrary whether or not the critics liked the work or not.
Another similar hoax was perpetrated by Naromji in 1946. Naromji was another modernist artist and was actually a man by the name of Jim Moran pranking the critics. He created the most meaningless colage he could think of and submitted it to an art show where it hung amongst other famous artists of the time. The interesting twist on this is that the value of the painting bounced around as different people claimed authorship. When Antheil delivered it, the association took it as a powerful work. When Moran exposed the Hoax, the painting was garbage. When an artist by the name of Kester later claimed it was his, the value was restored. As far as I'm concerned that made this hoax even more powerful. It exposed a painful truth in the art community that the name on a work is more highly valued than the work itself and the criticism that a work receives is heavily biased by the critic's view of the artist.