Leading article: The first art hoax without any art

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WHEN William Boyd published his biography of a New York modern artist called Nat Tate there was a full turnout by publishers, artists, critics and the rest for the launch party, hosted by David Bowie. But Mr Bowie was one of the few in on the joke - that Tate's was a made up story. And a very appealing hoax too - it may, indeed, be the first art hoax without any art.

Here is an artist who the art establishment decided to celebrate despite - or possibly because - of the fact that "almost none" of his work survived. When told - or "reminded" - that Nat was an "abstract expressionist" the words appear to have drained these clever and perceptive people of all their considerable critical faculties. But then the late Mr Tate, a depressive genius, was supposed to have had a rather colourful and boozy private life. And we live in an age when the artist can be more famous for how he lives than for what he creates. Take Jeff Koons - more famous for his marriage to, and subsequent divorce from, an Italian porn star than for his sculptures of kittens. Or Damien Hirst, something of a celebrity who relies on the notoriety of his personality as much as he does on one or two visceral pieces.

But maybe one should not be so harsh about the credulity with which this "discovery" was greeted. Who amongst us can honestly say that we have never bluffed our way through a tricky reference or two around the dinner party table? But next time we find ourselves sat next to one of those arty-farty types talking about the latest discovery we'll feel just a little more confident about admitting that we've "never heard of him".

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