October 18, 2011

"Sotheby's to sell real drawing by fake artist."

"The London auction house said Monday it is offering a drawing by the talented but fictional American abstract expressionist Nat Tate."

You can see the drawing — "Bridge No. 114" — and read about the creation of Nat Tate by writer William Boyd here.
It all started in 1998. I was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, then a very classy and influential art quarterly, and one day in a meeting the editor of the magazine, Karen Wright, wondered out loud if there was a way we could introduce some fiction into the mix of artists' profiles, exhibition reviews and general essays in which the magazine specialised. I don't know what made me speak out but I said, without really thinking: "Why don't I invent an artist?" And so Nat Tate was born.
So Boyd wrote his story, making Tate an Abstract Expressionist who gets depressed about his art after meeting Picasso* and ends up burning all his artwork and committing suicide.** Boyd allowed his fictional story to be published as a glossy art book with illustrations of artwork, and it was presented as if it were about a real artist. That it, it was a joke — the launch party was on an April Fool's Day 1998 — or, if you prefer, a hoax. People fell for it. The truth was revealed. Boyd professes himself hurt that it was called a hoax and not a joke. (Contemplate the hoax/joke distinction.)

Dogged by the accusations of hoax, Boyd conceived closure:
If this fictional artist could sell an artwork for real money then the Nat Tate story would have reached some kind of apotheosis and consummation. So I "found" another Nat Tate drawing – one from his famous bridge sequence... Sotheby's had form when it came to selling art by fictional artists, having successfully auctioned a Bruno Hat painting some years previously. Hat was a spoof artist that a group of bright young things had invented in 1929 and staged an exhibition of his work in a London town-house.... Hook consulted with colleagues and in due course I was told the sale was on...
Presumably, the form attends to all the incipient legal issues. If you go looking for closure, you surely don't want to touch off litigation. But the notion of closure is also fictional, no? I hadn't remembered the 12-year old story, and now I'm propagating it.

Actually, I like the idea of a fictional artist, and the artwork itself is real. (I've read "The Recognitions" by William Gaddis — "a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake.") In the blogosphere, boring, humorless people express outrage when pranksters and artists experiment with "sockpuppets." It's too hard to play in this complex world we've made for ourselves. (Why did we go to all this trouble to exclude play?!)

But Boyd duly anticipates outrage. The proceeds from the sale of "Bridge No. 114" will go to a charity. Artist's Benevolent Institution. Wouldn't it be funny if that the name of William Boyd's bank account? No, you're not laughing? You're one of the killjoys!
_____________________________

*And Braque. Seriously, why kill yourself over Braque? What cherry on the top of a depression sundae is Braque? I'd have to read the book to tell you. There, I just bought the book. I'll tell you later. You, the 2 people who read this blog and want to know how Braque augmented Picasso in the emotional arc toward a fictional suicide.

** He uses the same suicide method — jumping off the Staten Island ferry — used by Spalding Gray. I hope Gray didn't read this book, looking, perhaps for inspiration.

ADDED: From Boyd's book:
... Nat felt vastly more at ease with Braque than with Picasso and gladly accepted when Braque offered to show him around his studio. Braque was then reworking his painting La Terrasse, which he had begun some eleven years earlier, a fact that Tate found astonishing, not to say incomprehensible. He was also deeply moved and captivated by some of the smaller elongated landscapes and seascapes in the studio. Apparently Tate ventured the opinion that they reminded him of van Gogh’s late landscapes. After gently correcting Tate’s pronunciation (‘Van Go? Non, mon ami, jamais’), Braque commented that he ‘regarded van Gogh as a great painter of night.’ The observation seemed to trouble Nat unduly, as if it was prophetic or gnomic in some sinister way... There is a photograph of the fĂȘte champĂȘtre that Nat and Barkasian had with Braque and his family and friends during that visit, taken by Barkasian, one assumes, as he is absent from the picture. Braque himself sits at the centre of the table, dappled with autumn sunshine, while the women of the household fuss over the food and the placement. Nat stands close to the master, on his left, a plate in his hand, almost as if he is about to serve him. But his gaze is unfocused, he looks out of frame, at something in the middle distance, or perhaps just lost in his darkening thoughts. Nothing would ever be the same again.
So what was it about Braque that could drive you to suicide? His douchebag pronunciation of "Van Gogh"? His high school French? (I can talk French like that: Oui, mon ami, toujours!) Or was it the fact that — unlike an Abstract Expressionist — he fussed over a painting for 11 years, and — unlike an Abstract Expressionist — he maintained a calm and pretty domestic life? Dammit, that's it! I can't take it anymore!

81 comments:

Sheepman said...

Sounds a bit like Charles Willeford's "The Burnt Orange Heresy" from 1971, a very readable noir novel about an art critic who fakes, and then reviews, a painting of a famous reclusive artist.

lemondog said...

"Bridge No. 114"

Dark Eden said...

"In the blogosphere, boring, humorless people express outrage when pranksters and artists experiment with "sockpuppets." It's too hard to play in this complex world we've made for ourselves. "

Well well... I would say Althouse definitely puts herself more in the 'pranksters and artists' camp than the 'boring and humorless people' camp. Does this mean she's experimented with sock puppets in the comments thread? If you were an Althouse sock puppet, what would you do?

MadisonMan said...

Should have named the artist Tuttle.

chickenlittle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

@lemondog Thanks for providing the link that is in my post.

Scott M said...

If you were an Althouse sock puppet, what would you do?

1)Claim every expertise known to man.
2)Declare my vast knowledge with poorly written/misspelled bullet statements.
3) Bench 450 pounds.
4) Insult every single person that posts here for no apparent reason.
5) Butcher the Spanish language.
6) Use a one-letter screen name that comes after I.
7) Host a blog no one reads.

Ann Althouse said...

@chickenlittle See that's what happens when you approach Althouse in a bar? The shriveling!

MarkG said...

In the blogosphere, boring, humorless people express outrage when pranksters and artists experiment with "sockpuppets."

Helps explain why Althouse went postal on a thread awhile back.

Ann Althouse said...

"Helps explain why Althouse went postal on a thread awhile back."

There was the time I went postal on a thread and the time I went threadal on a post.

Scott M said...

There was the time I went postal on a thread and the time I went threadal on a post.

I was trying to come up with a snarky way to use that postal comment and failed. AA outsnarked me.

t-man said...

Like everything in life, sockpuppets can be used for good (fun) or evil (see Glenn Greenwald).

EDH said...

Sotheby's to sell real drawing by fake artist.

Well, in some quarters there has been impassioned debate about that.

Lambchop said...

Boy, that t-man really is smart. I agree with everything he says.

Ann Althouse said...

I have never used a pseudonym here. (I've written on other websites, perhaps only Metafilter and AOL, using a nom de plume — Alizaria — that I created long ago, before I started blogging. I still comment occasionally on Metafilter, but if you click on "Alizaria" you get to a page that shows my real name.)

But in the early days of blogging, I had a lot of creative ideas about creating an alter ego, someone with a blog who would come over here and antagonize me. I thought it would be similar to Plato writing dialogues to get his ideas out. And I wanted to just play with the great new art form that is blogging. But then people displayed such a lack of playfulness about sockpuppets. I took my inspiration in different directions. It's pretty sad, really. Or it forces me to be the character, and, in that context, it's obvious that a lot of humorless folk don't get me.

I get called an "idiot" just about every day.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)

If you were an Althouse sock puppet, what would you do?

1)Claim every expertise known to man.
2)Declare my vast knowledge with poorly written/misspelled bullet statements.
//
7) Host a blog no one reads

Hey Squat-tard you wiccansatanist I was gonna use that idea! You freak’n LDS “sock puppet” comer mis cortos, joto!

Ann Althouse said...

"that postal comment... failed. AA outsnarked me."

Giving me more material is not failure. The last word is never written.

Ann Althouse said...

I like the way there's a bad French and a bad Spanish theme happening here.

Robert Cook said...

I've never been too fond of Braque, although I understand the cognoscenti consider him a master, but I will pick a nit: he was not an abstract expressionist.

Lambchop said...

I've had un oeuf of this thread.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


I feel I provide a valuable service…I give you “J” without having to actually bring “J” here, and it gives “J” more time on the couch with the Cheetoh’s…All-in-all, I think Althouse and “J” owe me some money for this service.

Pogo said...

Democrats sold us a real budget by a fake President.

Dogged by the accusations of hoax, the Democrats conceived closure:

If this fictional President could give away real money to Party donors then the Obama story would have reached some kind of apotheosis and consummation.

But the notion of closure is also fictional, no?

Ann Althouse said...

"I had a lot of creative ideas about creating an alter ego"

Blech. I doubled up on "creative." You can't edit comments. The shame is preserved forever, unless you redo, republish, and delete. But then it's out of order. Like life itself.

The shame! Like I'm parading creativity. And it's about something I never did. Just imagine -- if you are at all creative -- all the wonderful things I would have written, if only... I hadn't wimped out when faced with idea that I would inspire outrage in people I obviously don't respect.

Lucien said...

So why is it that items about Ron Paul's economic plans and the CEO/UW investigation are sandwiched between two items about hoaxes?

Given this blog's frequent observations about juxtaposition of items in Drudge, one has to wonder.

Shouting Thomas said...

Real artists are a pain in the ass. Believe me, I know a lot of them.

Replacing real artists with fake artists seems like a good plan to me.

E.M. Davis said...

Has anyone tried to sell a fake drawing by a real artist?

Sixty Grit said...

"I hope Gray didn't read this book, looking, perhaps for inspiration."

Far be it from me to judge end of life issues, I am not there yet, but as with other famous suicides, such as Hemmingway, Gray had suffered an accident that left him with brain damage. He wasn't in the best of mental health before the injury, so perhaps he didn't need inspiration, as you put it.

But why does it matter? You hope he didn't read it, "looking, perhaps for inspiration"? Why?

And was this a case of self murder or suicide?

As for Nat Tate (Eastwing Hirschhorn?), that's some funny stuff. He really did suck, and I am glad he killed himself.

DADvocate said...

Liberals are great, ows is great, Obama hung the moon.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


I always suspected “Sir Archie” or “Titus” were Althouse sock puppets…I miss Sir Archie, I got here just as he was leaving…always well-thought out and well-executed, informative, but not snarky, humane and yet on-point…

DADvocate said...

Oops. My previous comment was supposed to go under my other name.

As a multiple sop pucket, I can have fantastic debates with my self, while amazing other readers with my brilliance.

Paddy O said...

So much more low class, but I've enjoyed the books by best-selling author Richard Castle, as well as his tweets and Facebook updates.

He even has his own author's page on Amazon.

And he's a character played by Nathan Fillion on the ABC show Castle.

madAsHell said...

...and you don't think Andy Warhol laughed all the way to the bank??

traditionalguy said...

Fictional non-fiction pops up once more. It has sold well ever since Truman Capote invented mass marketing it in his In Cold Blood fictional non-fiction account.

Are today's full length cartoon movies real actors?? The voices seem real.

Delusion is fun. But if you trap yourself into success by delusion, is there a way out of the trap?

Kirby Olson said...

@Sheepman,

The novel by Charles Willeford called The Burnt Orange Heresy about a critic who invents a painter (the painter exists but he has never painted anything much) and gets an article about him into a giant art encyclopedia (more column inches than Durer), and then kills the one person who knows about it, his girlfriend as you say explores similar territory, but is also a gripping fun read with lots of fascinating asides about how the art game works. I think I'm the only critic who in turn has written extensively about that book -- it's in my book Comedy after Postmodernism: Rereading comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford (Texas Tech UP 2001). Some of the noir guys like Janwillem van der Wetering and the novelist's widow read the essay but didn't understand it (too much postmodernism in it). Still, what a great novel, and thanks for mentioning it!

Steve Koch said...

Braque is one of my favorite painters. I don't like everything he did but I like a lot of it. I particularly like the way he could abstract something enough to simplify it, capture the essence and beauty of the scene but you can still recognize the scene without turning your head sideways.

Paddy O said...

According to Amazon, Richard Castle's "first novel, In a Hail of Bullets, published while he was still in college, received the Nom DePlume Society's prestigious Tom Straw Award for Mystery Literature."

Craig said...

This post needs another tag. It should be filed under Post-Colonialism.

edutcher said...

Nat Tate sounds somewhat like Jackson Pollock.

Frederic Remington and Rubens (probably others as well) burned a number of their works for various reasons (in Rubens' case, some possibly salacious nudes of his second wife).

Ann Althouse said...

I can talk French like that: Oui, mon ami, toujours!

No, you have to throw in nonsense interjections like, "Sacred bleu! Nom de plume!", and say things like, "Un petit skunk de pew!".

MadisonMan said...

Should have named the artist Tuttle.

Nice one.

John Burgess said...

AA: I think you're taking the wrong definition of 'form' used in the OP. Rather than a paper to be filled out, it's a history of past performance, as in horse racing.

And thanks for reminding me of Recognitions. I need to get a copy for my son, perhaps for Christmas!

WV: turpolas... one of the elves who bought it early in Lord of the Rings.

Kirby Olson said...

I started to read A Frolic of His Own, but gave up in bewilderment. I think I'll start it again. I should also read Recognitions. A Frolic of His Own begins with a guy on his deathbed, or at least in hospital, having a conversation for about thirty pages with his wife over whether they should sue someone but there is no he said she said he just expects you to follow it. It's possible to do it, but it's an extreme challenge and I have to admit that the tangentialness of it was really screwy -- then it segues into a Richard Serra sculpture down at th eFederal Building in NYC, and controversies about getting a cat out of it, and it's just really hard to follow an dwhen you can it didn't strike me as being worth it, but maybe in the aggregate it's worth it?

ricpic said...

Braque is so much the greater painter than Picasso that it's not even a contest. But people are dazzled by flash. Always have been, always will be.

David said...

I'm never quite sure how to interpret the "not to say" circumlocution. Sometimes, it seems to mean "I used this word specifically, and don't mean this other, related word that's farther down some pejorative spectrum.

And sometimes it seems to mean that the more pejorative word really applies.

Zeb Quinn said...

I always suspected “Sir Archie” or “Titus” were Althouse sock puppets…I miss Sir Archie, I got here just as he was leaving…

From appearances, Sir Archy discreetly outed himself a few months ago. There may have been subsequent comments and revelations on the topic, but if so I missed them. And I don't know if there's been any closure.

Ann Althouse said...

" but I will pick a nit: he was not an abstract expressionist."

Reread. I certainly didn't say he was!

Ann Althouse said...

"But why does it matter? You hope he didn't read it, "looking, perhaps for inspiration"? Why? "

I'm sorry he killed himself. I loved him.

Ann Althouse said...

"I always suspected “Sir Archie” or “Titus” were Althouse sock puppets…I miss Sir Archie, I got here just as he was leaving…always well-thought out and well-executed, informative, but not snarky, humane and yet on-point…"

If Sir Archy had been me — and I would never have chosen that kind of verbosity — I would have made the final flouncing off way more interesting and hilarious.

As for Titus... yeah, I'd be proud of myself if I did that. As proud as Titus is of his latest "loaf."

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


Thanks Zeb, I didn’t see that one….

Ann Althouse said...

"Reread. I certainly didn't say he was!"

I edited to exclude your incorrect interpretation of my writing. I assumed everyone knows Braque was a cubist. I used the phrase "unlike you typical Abstract Expressionist" to allow for the fact that some Abstract Expressionists did take a lot of time to finish a painting and did have a happy home life. But the stereotype is the opposite.

I've simplified it to "unlike an Abstract Expressionist," which bluntly relies on the stereotype.

My apologies to the nice hardworking Abstract Expressionists out there, living and dead.

that-xmas said...

I'm pretty sure Van Gogh killed himself because stupid Americans kept mispronouncing his name.

(Not that I ever knew how his name was pronounced until I was yelled at by a hotel waitress in Amsterdam.)

Jeffrey said...

Spalding Gray went to a private prep school in Maine (Fryeburg Academy, $40,000 per year) and then a private college (Emerson, $25,000 per year), so Mom and Pop spent around $260,000 for Spalding's B.A. in poetry. His Dad was a white-collar numbers-cruncher for a machine tools company. Rain on a red wheelbarrow and petals on a black bough. American story.

Sixty Grit said...

Money well spent. What did he pay to ride the ferry? It used to be a nickel...

Jeffrey said...

Just read this:

Fewer than 1% of students enrolled in school in the United States attend an independent private preparatory school, a small fraction compared with the 9% who attend parochial schools and 88% who attend public schools.

Spalding belonged to the elite of the elite. His brothers' names: Rockwell, Jr. and Channing. Man. Names like Matt and Bob just won't do for that family.

Skeet shooting with Rockwell and Channing? Yes. With Matt and Bob? No way.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I've always assumed that Meade was actually an Althouse sock puppet. How else do you explain why I was not invited to the wedding? In fact, I'll go so far as to say that nobody here has ever met this so-called Meade.

And of course, if any of you claim to have met him, I'll have to assume that you are simply another Althouse sock puppet.

In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if all of you are Althouse sock puppets, and that I'm the only real commenter here. If so, she's going to an awful lot of trouble to keep me entertained. I wonder what she's up to?

Ann Althouse said...

"In fact, I'll go so far as to say that nobody here has ever met this so-called Meade."

That's funny, because we are having dinner tonight with a commenter, who is someone you've seen in pictures on this blog.

Ann Althouse said...

"n fact, I'm beginning to wonder if all of you are Althouse sock puppets, and that I'm the only real commenter here. If so, she's going to an awful lot of trouble to keep me entertained. I wonder what she's up to?"

The real question is whether I am the real Althouse. What do you really know about the real person who grew up in Delaware and has been teaching law since 1984 in a remote outpost in the Midwest.

ricpic said...

Hey Jeffrey, rain on a red wheelbarrow was written by a real doctor doctor, not a Phid, who made real house calls to real sick people his whole working life. But then he was a real poet not a poetaster ala Spalding.

Crunchy Frog said...

We've seen Nat Tate before. He and his unnamed associate won the Best New Artist Grammy performing (well, lip-synching) as Milli Vanilli.

I always felt bad for the anonymous studio guys that actually created the music of MV. Got no cred for some pretty good songs.

Scott M said...

That's funny, because we are having dinner tonight with a commenter, who is someone you've seen in pictures on this blog.

1) Does this count as Alt-Con 2011?
2) If three of you come together in your name...

Crunchy Frog said...

Shut up, Spalding.

Scott M said...

Shut up, Spalding.

100% inevitable.

MadisonMan said...

That's funny, because we are having dinner tonight with a commenter, who is someone you've seen in pictures on this blog.

Have this commenter's parents moved to Madison yet?

Robert Cook said...

"I'm pretty sure Van Gogh killed himself because stupid Americans kept mispronouncing his name."

This past Sunday 60 MINUTES featured a segment with the authors of a new biography of Van Gogh, who offer their theory that he did not kill himself, but was shot, accidentally or purposely, by two teenage boys who had borrowed a pistol from Van Gogh's landlord.

Robert Cook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey said...

ricpic,

Yep, there were two references in my comment: William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. For Williams, he was mostly after images without metaphorical extension. Just rain on a red wheelbarrow, he wrote. Something all of us can fix in our imagination.

Spalding's Dad worked for Brown & Sharpe, a company that made precision tools and one that would later have a lot of labor issues. I have nothing against Spalding Gray, but he grew up in a world very different from mine (I grew up in a small town in Iowa, a farming community). Very few people in my town made $40,000 a year when I was growing up. The idea of spending that much for one year of high school would have been considered bizarre.

Michael said...

Patricia Highsmith did a riff on this very concept in one of her Ripley books. Very interesting book.

William Boyd's the author of a splendid novel "Any Human Heart."

chickenlittle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignorance is Bliss said...

What do you really know about the real person who grew up in Delaware and has been teaching law since 1984 in a remote outpost in the Midwest.

No much. For all I know, you could have been the real author of all of those Shakespeare plays.

Besides, I'm from the east coast, so I'm pretty iffy on the existence of the Midwest anyway.

David said...

My dog?

Be sure and walk him after, please.

MadisonMan said...

@chickenlittle, that's a better guess than mine was.

t-man said...

What about a Meadhouse cross-country tour in 2012?

Lambchop said...

Hey, t-man's right again. You you've put off the tour long enough.

t-man said...

Thanks for the support, Lambchop, but you should proofread before hitting publish.

Lambchop said...

Thanks for the tip, t-man. You are the best.

Scott M said...

See, now, that would have been really funny if you would have responded with;

"Thanks for the tip, t-man. You you've are the best."

Kirby Olson said...

Maybe Spalding never fit in because of his weird name. A boy named Sue fought back, but with Spalding I think you just cave in. The government should norm kids' names. Obama could set up a new czar. Names' czar. He'd lose a huge part of his constituency, but it's something that needs to be regulated. All boys could be called Barack. All girls could be called Michelle.

George Spencer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Almost Ali said...

Nom de plumes let everybody off the hook.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Almost Ali said...

Nom de plumes let everybody off the hook.

FYI, the plural is noms de plume

Synova said...

I thought I read that there was a woman artist, once, who chose a male nom de plume and got quite a lot of praise until she was found out, at which point the stuffy-artsy sorts suddenly discovered she wasn't as talented as they thought. I don't remember who that was supposed to have been, though.

People get mad when the point of the deception was to make fools of them. After all, that was the point.

http://www.travistea.com/

Take Travis Tea. The whole point was to expose the predatory vanity publisher, Publish America. I'm quite certain they had (and have) no sense of humor about it at all. Everyone else thinks it's hilarious. You can, in fact, purchase the novel, Atlanta Nights, and last I heard someone was trying to make a documentary about it all.

I took one of Richard Castle's books out of the library and was sorely disappointed that it does not contain a copyright notice so I couldn't see who wrote it. But people can incorporate their pseudonym and put the copyright in that name anyway. But the thing of it is... every one knows that this is a bit of recursive performance art. It's fun because we're in on it.

I don't think my nom de internet bothers anyone because I'm not trying to pull a fast one on anyone.

I think it only appears complicated. When people are in on the joke, if it is having a conversation with themselves or being a pretend artist, they enjoy the joke. When it's a pen-name, movie star's pseudonymn, or even nom de guerre, it's not a case of concealing who you are because you're promoting that appellation and it is yourself. When the goal is to make someone angry, they get angry, and if your alter-ego is used as a proof of what your primary-ego is trying to prove, then it's perceived as fraud.

Almost Ali said...

FYI, the plural is noms de plume

Noms de plume let everybody off the hook.

chickenlittle said...

I deleted my comments here and elsewhere because I no longer wish to be associated with a blog with such blatant, hypocritical, 1st Amendment standards.