The story of the most successful art forger in the world

True Copy
True Copy

This year’s Brighton Festival offers the true story of possibly the most successful art forger in the world.

The company BERLIN will use what it calls its “genre-curious” style to expose what it sees as the hypocrisy of the art world.

When police tracked down Geert Jan Jansen (and more than 1,600 forged works of Picasso, Dalí, Matisse and Hockney) they put a stop to a 20-year career which fooled the art world. Inspired by his story, True Copy explores the constant balancing act required to keep fiction and reality seamless in order to preserve one man’s life – and his deceit of the entire art world.

What is the truth and when does it matter when a fakery is just as accomplished as the real thing? The piece will ponder when is it better to play along with an elaborate lie that diverts from the truth…

Co-director and writer Bart Baele, who will introduce the piece on stage in English before it proceeds in Dutch with English surtitles, says part of the point is that so many in the art world went along with what was happening, knowing full well they were dealing with fakes.

The show will run from Thursday, May 23-Sunday, May 26 at 8pm at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, with a post-show talk on Thursday, May 23.

Geert Jan Jansen is still alive and is closely involved with the show, says Bart.

“Geert Jan Jansen is from the Netherlands and for 25 years he made false Picassos and Monets and so on. He did more than 25 masters. He taught himself. He never went to school to learn painting. It was all a bit of a coincidence when he started. He had an art gallery in Amsterdam on a very known street with a lot of galleries, and he didn’t sell many paintings. But the gallery next door was selling Karel Appels very fast, and so he decided that he could make a Karel Appel. He made one and it went to auction and it worked. An expert said it was OK and that it really was a Karel Appel, and that was how it started. He made more, and he made more and more and he did other painters. He started to learn more and more because you can’t go to the auction every week with a new discovery by the same painter! He managed to do more than 25 painters in all, and he did it for 25 years.

“He didn’t make exact copies, but he made work that was in the style of these great masters, Monet and so on. If Monet made ten times a certain painting in different colours and different lights, then there would be an 11th and a 12th, new discoveries of his work – except it was Geert Jan Jansen who made the 11th and the 12th.

“There is a question in the performance. Of course, it is wrong, what he did, because it is false, but when there is authenticity and money involved in the art world, why is authenticity so important. It is a question of what is really important. Is the authenticity really more important than the painting? More than 20 per cent of paintings in the art world (generally) are false.

“I don’t think Geert Jan Jansen admits that he did anything completely wrong. He says that a lot of people knew, but everybody was keen to make money from it. He blames the auction world because they knew. There is a lot of money in the world of art.”

In this new component of the Horror Vacui series, BERLIN puts Geert Jan himself on stage. “The internal cogwheels that keep this complex man ticking act as a manual for laying bare – amongst other things – the hypocrisy inside the art world. What does truthfulness really mean? And isn’t it much more refreshing to go along with a beautifully packaged lie?

“The show presented as a presentation, a performance, a lecture. We have a big wall with paintings by Geert Jan Jansen projected on and we have workspaces for where we can show what he did and how he worked.”

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