It's an issue that seems to have the entire art world, particularly the retail sector, eternally scratching its head.
How do you know for SURE that the art you just bought at auction or from a gallery is "truly authentic"? More on "truly authentic" in a moment, but first ...
Let's define "authentic." Dictionary.com defines "authentic" as, "of undisputed origin ... not false or copied ... having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence."
I love the "unquestionable evidence" part of that definition. Here's why ...
As an art collector myself, I am LOADED with art from LIVING artists from all over the world. And guess what? I did not and do not buy art at auction or through galleries. I avoid the art game. You know what I mean ... the Cheshire Cat grins, side glances and comments, two faces and crossed fingers and daggers hidden behind backs ...
You know ... the pleasant stuff.
Don't get me wrong. I love auctions and art galleries, but I simply cannot afford them. And I wouldn't buy through them even if I could. So what's a poor, passionate art collector to do? BUY DIRECT. FORGE RELATIONSHIPS.
I can email any of "my artists" any day of the week and chat with them directly. There's no middle man. I do not need to rely on an art professional for advice nor do I need a consultant. I am the art consultant and the professional.
Before I go on, let me just say that I'm NOT talking about the works of dead, famous artists. That a whole other issue. However, if any of the artists whose work I collect die, I've got receipts, email, interviews and relationships to back up authenticity challenges.
Would you call that "unquestionable evidence"? I would.
You see, THIS is the problem. Authenticity is such a challenge because WHO in this day and age - or ever - has time, let alone the inclination - or guts - to actually contact artists and forge actual relationships with THEM? People today only want the product. They couldn't care less about the maker. This is one of the reasons why artists have such a difficult time. People see them as assembly line workers rather than as human beings who have thoughts and souls that actually inspire their work. THAT'S what I'm really after.
There are no short cuts to authenticity ... especially in the art world. Still, everyone tries. But I say, if you want "the real deal," you must do the WORK. But who has time for that? Why not take a short cut and go through the middle man? That's the rule of the day. Is it not? We're paying the price for it.
A few years ago, one of my Joseph Kucinski paintings developed a problem. The painting - on wood panel - was detaching from the frame and it was impacting the paint finish somehow. I was upset about it and so, what did I do? I didn't call a conservator or consult with a gallery. I emailed Joseph and asked him if he could fix it. He said yes, and so, I shipped it back to him in Portland, Oregon, he fixed it and shipped it back. Done.
I still have the email to support this story and if anything, this short story alone increases the history - and value - of the painting. The repair that Joseph did to his own work didn't diminish its authenticity, it actually elevated it. In short, authenticity is about actual relationships and not deals with a bunch of peripheral people. Even a shallow relationship with an artist can trump any authenticity challenge.
Here's another example. I own 57 of artist Merv Slotnick's abstract works on paper. I call them "Slotnicks." I KNOW his work. However, if the day ever comes when the authenticity of his work is challenged, I've got a simple way to verify it. Needless to say, I won't reveal it here, but I've also got plenty of email exchanges and receipts with Merv. I did the human WORK ... ahead of time. I know the artist.
You simply cannot take short cuts with art and expect to get away with it. If you do, you will pay the true price somewhere down the line. Authenticity challenges tend to be among the biggest prices to pay.
Now ... "truly authentic." What's that all about?
We live in a fallen world where we're always trying to figure out whether or not someone IS actually who they CLAIM to be. That's OUR fault. If we are not real, how can we expect other people to be authentic? If we are taking short cuts for the quick and fast pay off, how can we expect other people to drop their poker faces? This is a problem.
If you want authenticity and realness in your life, then YOU must put that into practice every day. If you hang around with a bunch of phonies, then that's also how other people will see YOU. Why would or should they think anything else? How can we expect authenticity in the things we collect or even in our environment when we ourselves aren't being real?
For some reason, Bruce Jenner has come to mind. As I'm writing this, the famous Olympian and Kardashian dad is transitioning into a woman named Caitlyn. He said that he hasn't really been "authentic" in 65 years ... until now.
Whatever you think about Jenner is not my point here. No need for debate on that. What I do find interesting is the fact that he essentially felt he wasn't being real and doing the true, interior work in his life until now. He felt that he'd been taking short cuts.
But here's my point ... I dare say that MANY of us aren't being real. How "truly authentic" are you? How connected are you to sources that can verify your authenticity with unquestionable evidence? Can you even?
Authenticity takes work. But WHO has time for that? Still, faking and knocking off things, our emotions and who we really are is such a pain in the ass. So much energy for so little true payoff. You may as well go on ahead and do the real work.
Being fake is like buying a $20 designer knockoff good from a shady dealer on any New York City street. You feel great about getting an "unbelievable deal," but deep down, you know it's not the "real deal" and if you have any self awareness at all, you feel a bit like a douche.
So ... whether it's art, consumer goods or humanity, shouldn't everything be real ... come what may? Life is too short to engage in quackery and foolishness ... although many people seem to be managing swindling others quite well.
Still, at the end of the day, you are also contemporary art ... in the flesh. We are the most important creations of all. People are always so worried about whether objects of desire are the real thing, but despite their value, they're still just "things."
I am more concerned about you. What about you? Are YOU authentic? Or are you also part of the game?