Forgeries find easy access to art market

David Lister examines the rise of pastiching as a successful modern day art form
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The Independent Culture
Those who can, paint. Those who can, and want to make money, pastiche. The most overheard snippet of conversation in any self-respecting modern art gallery is: "But I could have done that." Behind the phrase is an art form.

Pastiching is widespread, both in its respectable, highly-skilled and lucrative guise and in its illegal, fraudulent and also lucrative guise that Independent investigations have uncovered. Even the name pasticheur has a borrowed-from-Montmartre feel. If pasticheurs seem to be multiplying, it could be because some 20th-century art has proved a relatively easy number to pastiche.

In the late 1960s, American researchers fed the details of paintings by Paul Klee into a computer programmed to detect patterns in shapes and colours. After analysing the paintings, the computer was able to generate more "school of Klee" originals. Prints of the genuine Klees and the machine Klees were then given to art students to see if they could tell which were which. The results showed that they could not.

When they were asked to interpret the paintings, they found no difficulty in doing so if they were told one had been produced by a human hand, but when told a picture was computer-generated, they said that no interpretation was possible. Oddly, despite that success, computers have been only sparingly used in pastiching famous artists.

Questioning art students and drawing experts, a shortlist of artists ripe for pastiching emerges. Jean Miro's flat, spodgy, childlike shapes were cited frequently. Rothko's blurred, soft discs of colour were another popular choice.

But the success of installation art means that copyists and pasticheurs are also having to adjust. Contemporary pastiche needs less of an eye for stylistic idiosyncrasies than hitherto. But it does demand contacts. If you can cultivate the chap at the local slaughter house for a deceased cow, and chat up the security guard at the morgue for a tub of formaldehyde...