The Museum of Fakes

The BBC reports that a 60-year-old Korean man has been arrested for running "a private museum stuffed with fakes." He bought cheap artifacts from flea markets and then displayed them as ancient treasures. He claimed one of his fakes was a "Koryo Dynasty celadon." All in all, he managed to earn $443,000 from this scam through ticket sales.

Two things occur to me:

1) So people are assuming that most museums aren't full of fakes? The dirty little secret of the worlds of art and archaeology is that they're awash in fakes. And even when a museum owns the genuine artifact, it might not display the real thing for security reasons.

2) To play devil's advocate, what difference does it make if people see the real thing or a fake? The vast majority of audience members are unable to tell the difference. My theory is that when people visit museums to gawk at artifacts they don't understand, they're actually engaging in a form relic worship. And the power of the relic lies not in its authenticity, but in the belief in its authenticity.

History Scams

Posted on Wed Oct 01, 2008


The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a whole gallery full of fakes (here).

Well, okay, they're reproductions produced from casts of the originals, but it raises the question, if people will queue to see a copy of Michaelangelo's David, couldn't this guy simply have labelled his exhibits as 'reproductions' and avoided the jail time?
Posted by David B.  on  Wed Oct 01, 2008  at  11:13 AM
I go to museums to see pretty or interesting things. I haven't ever even stopped to consider if something was fake or not.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Wed Oct 01, 2008  at  12:35 PM
I could not convince History majors that museums were to give an idea what something was like, not letting people be in the presence of something old or odd. And the Art majors are just nuts! They showed little concern with quality, composition, or color; just who (they think) made it and when.

The art discussion lead to a fascinating bit of art info: Van Gogh painted TWO versions of "Sunflowers." There are THREE versions known to exist. Obviously at least one owner has a fake, but none want to risk bringing them together for testing.
Posted by Cavalier  on  Wed Oct 01, 2008  at  01:24 PM
I knew displaying reproductions was common for dinosaur bones, because I've been to one of the few museums in the world that displays the real fossils and not plaster reproductions. So I knew about that in respect to fossils, but it never occurred to me that art or anthropological artifacts might also be plaster reproductions.

Also makes me think of the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge where Toulouse-Lautrec accuses other painters of worshiping the brass plate next to the Mona Lisa, because they themselves had no first-hand knowledge of where it came from or who painted it. All they knew was the brass plate next to it told them it's the best painting in the world, so they admired it as such.
Posted by Crazy Ivan  on  Wed Oct 01, 2008  at  02:07 PM
Does anyone here know if there have been any good books written or any other resources on the subject of museum fakes?

Some of the information the commenters have given is VERY interesting.

One of my professors mentioned this cryptically many years ago and I always wanted to research the subject.

Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!
Posted by reeves  on  Thu Oct 02, 2008  at  12:26 AM
"And the power of the relic lies not in its authenticity, but in the belief in its authenticity."

I'm naming this "The Sarah Palin Effect."
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Oct 02, 2008  at  02:23 AM
If replicas become too accepted, then the authenticating experts will likely end up as brainy misfits like Bobby Fischer.
Posted by Phred22  on  Thu Oct 02, 2008  at  08:26 AM
Being the horribly trusting person that I am, I always assumed that the displays were real. What's the point of having a fancy display of fakes? "To give an idea what something was like" is a real cop-out. Fakes belong in the gift shop, not in the displays. Reproductions should be next to a shard of the real thing, and labelled in large print as being a reconstruction due to the original having fallen apart.

Yes, I hate being lied to.
Posted by Frosty  on  Fri Oct 03, 2008  at  10:37 AM
Ooops, should have added: authenticity is what makes it "cool." Age is nifty, you might say. A fake is just a fake.
Posted by Frosty  on  Fri Oct 03, 2008  at  10:40 AM
False Impressions by Thomas Hoving is a fun to read, insider's look at fakes in museum collections written by a former director of the Met.
Posted by H  on  Fri Oct 03, 2008  at  12:01 PM
I work in museums, so I know how many artefacts are reproductions rather than originals. I understand the feeling of being lied to, but consider how fragile the item might be, and that museums have a responsibility to try to preserve these things for future generations. As long as they're actually labelled reproduction - I get shirty when they're passed off as the real deal.
Posted by kat  on  Fri Oct 03, 2008  at  08:21 PM
sounds like a great gig! my own museum..wait...was this story a fake?......
Posted by brooke  on  Thu Oct 09, 2008  at  09:21 PM
Not that there's anything wrong with relic worship, I suppose.

I guess the question ought to be wherein does the value of seeing (or being near) the object in question lie? Touching one of the stones of the Parthenon meant a lot to me for more than one reasons.

Also, check out F For Fake written, directed by and starring the late Mr. Orson Welles.
Posted by  on  Fri Oct 10, 2008  at  08:09 PM
Wow.. 60 year old guy can scam to that level. I wonder how much the younger ones can do these days. For me, he have earned good money for his family members. What an old guy will do with that much money?
Posted by retro art  on  Mon Oct 13, 2008  at  07:59 PM
Are you saying that my Roman coin collection with
with coins stamped from 100 to 25 B.C. is fake?
Posted by wdl  on  Tue Oct 14, 2008  at  04:17 PM
To retro: A younger one will probably not live that old... He will die in prison ...
Posted by texas holdem  on  Thu Oct 16, 2008  at  05:16 AM
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