In “The Don’s Life” blog published by The Times Literary Supplement, Cambridge professor Mary Beard has posted a cogent (and blessedly brief) observation and commentary on the corrosive effect of fakes and forgeries while viewing a rogues gallery of bogus objects that purport to be ancient, now on display in a glass case at the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels. “Once you had seen the ‘fakes’ case, everything [on display in the adjoining ancient art galleries in the museum] started to look not quite right … They can’t all be fakes, but once your suspicion has been aroused — it spreads. Were they all waiting to be part of a big exhibition of fakes, and just hadn’t got their labels yet?” Then Professor Beard quickly adds, “I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the museum.” Certainement pas. But let’s back up.
Professor Beard poses an excellent question. How many forgeries, or old objects that have been “improved” in modern times to make them more palatable to the modern eye (hence more profitable at the point of sale) can be found in the galleries of today’s great museums, waiting for the right labels to be applied? Another question: how many similarities do the forgeries that Professor Beard discusses, have in common with the unprovenanced (probably looted) artifacts that exist in many museums today? Similarity Number One (in a long list of parallels): both the forgery and the looted artifact have no origin or find spot, no circumstance of manufacture, no provenance or history that the museum wishes to share with the public. Relegated to the lowest and most transitory rung of understanding (“aesthetics”), the forgery (or looted artifact) remains mute, while the viewer, seeing no fact or story worth remembering on the nearby gallery label, turns and walks away.
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