Elmyr de Hory and Fernand Legros in Poyais.
Opening 6-8pm Tuesday 30 May, Australian Galleries, 28 Derby St. Collingwood
During the 1950’s there was many “houses of the stars “ tours in Hollywood. Amongst the
hundreds of excited and guilable waiting in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to be picked
up by a painted over school bus was once Elmyr De Hory and at another time Fernand
Legros. The host of the “houses of the stars “ tour stands in the front of the bus and tells the
passengers which star’s house the bus will stopping at next. The gaping passengers are told
that behind this latest in a series of tall and wide, brick and stuccoed walls lives Fred Astaire.
The passengers take photos of the wall and lean into it and perhaps to hear the sound of a
shower draining or car starting up.
For the –soon to be – most successful art forgers in history, Elmyr de Hory and Fernand
Legros it was clear that the whispered name of the star was enough, all they had to do was
provide an old school bus and a big empty brick wall.
A passenger who came alone on the tour asks the host, rather routinely “how do we know
this is Fred Astaire’s house “.The host then walks to the letterbox in the wall and slides his
fingers into the letter slot and pulls out a letter addressed to “Mr. Frederick Astaire !”. The
gasping passengers line up to look. This detail is particulairly appreciated by Elmyr De Hory
and then later by Fernand Legros.
French social commentator/philosopher Jean Baudrillard suggested that Disneyland was
created so that Americans could be convinced of the reality of their own world by
comparison with the fantasy /unreal world of Disneyland. But Disneyland became so
successful that it grew to include the entire life of the average American. Baudrillard went
on to suggest that pornography was created to convince us that our sex was real, that
financial markets were created to convince us that our money was real and history was
created to convince use that our past was real. Art forgers Elmyr De Hory and Fernand
Legros found out that art history was created to convince us that important art was real.
LOST IN A SUPERMARKET
DeHory and Legros both orphaned early in their lives grew up during World War Two and
had a very urgent sense of the plasticity of both personal and public history. De Hory in
particular – a jewish, homosexual, Hungarian orphan surviving in Nazi occupied Germany
learnt the virtue of deceit. Both orphans used the freedom that came with not being
tethered to a family name and family members. They understood the possibilities that come
with the familyless brand of anonyminity and unaccountability. The two art forgers did not
live in a world of objects, places and people created by and for the past. Their world was a
great supermarket full of places , people and things that were there for their needs and for
their needs now. For De Hory and Legros facts, truth and honesty were verbs not nouns.
During a time of war military spokesmen are encouraged to use the language and imagery of
movie trailers when talking to the public about the progress of the war – that way the war will
sound real to them. Many people feel their romantic relationships aren’t real unless they have a
quirky first meeting story and an almost immediate obstacle to overcome like the love stories in
books and at the movies. For people to know an artwork is important it needs an origin story;
the artist’s mental illness, the artist’s persecution, the artist’s early friends and associates or in
the case of the Mona Lisa that the artwork was once stolen.
In 1820, at the time of the Colonizing frenzy, Gregor MacGregor made up a fake country called
the Republic of Poyais. He then opened offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London where he
sold Poyais real estate and exchanged real money for the Poyais the dollars his mate – who
worked at the mint printed for him. After months in a boat doing laps of South America, the few
Poyais investors who had survived the trip realised there was no Poyais but refused to accept
they’d been duped.
During the 50’s and 60’s Elmyr de Hory specialised in forging the fauves, the bright, simple and
unreal colours of Matisse, Dufy ect.. Fernand Legros was an illegal immigrant from Egypt who
pretended to be a former ballet dancer and with his lover Canadian backpacker Real Lessard
they sold De Hory’s forgeries to some of the biggest art museums and art collectors in Europe
and the U.S.
Once they approached the collectors and museum directors with a Matisse painting, Modigliani
drawing or a print by Picasso the excited/ frenzied buyers were interested only in knowing that
the artworks were real – really made by the names/the brands. No-one was interested in the
work itself.De Hory and Legros had to make the provenance first and then the art would follow.
De Hory and Legros proved that the fine art world was as brand gullible as any bunch of
branded – up teenagers you find loitering in any suburban shopping mall.
“The Great Leader Declared War on the Four Pets”
Australian Galleries, Melbourne, May 30 – June 17. Opening Tuesday May 30th 6-8pm
The “Four Pests” campaign was introduced in 1958 as a hygiene campaign aimed to eradicate the pests responsible for the transmission of pestilence and disease: the mosquitos responsible for malaria, the rodents that spread the plague, the pervasive airborne flies and the sparrows -specifically the Eurasian tree sparrow – which ate grain seed and fruit.
With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the The Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides. Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the The Great Chinese Famine. The Chinese government eventually resorted to importing 250,000 sparrows from the Soviet Union to replenish their population.
The Cultural Revolution had rejected the five values of Confucianism – kindness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and faith and replaced them with lists of things or reasons to; hate, suspect, fight and report. The “Nine Black Categories” were landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, bad influences, right-wingers, traitors, spies, capitalist roaders and (ninth) intellectuals. In November 1951, Mao formally launched the Three Antis Campaign (san fan). Its purpose was to eradicate three specific ‘evils’: corruption, waste and bureaucracy
A second campaign, the Five Antis (or wu fan), was launched in early 1952, almost concurrently with san fan. The five ‘evils’ nominated by Mao were bribery, tax evasion, theft of state property, cheating on government contracts and stealing economic information.
All of these party enemies and behaviours were to be surveilled, policed and fought by all citizens during the Cultural Revolution. Of course, the easiest way not to fall into one of the categories was to accuse and hate as many of these party enemies as you find, imagine or lie about. The process of avoiding being accused started with writing accusations about people in your town, that you barely knew, on big poster paper and pasting it on public buildings. With the support of other like-minded people, you then organise a struggle session where you could be seen accusing your target person of the impossibility of not avoiding one category of the impossible to remember-never ending list – of anti-party behaviours. Mao had learnt from the Catholic Church that you must keep creating sins to keep ahead of your power to forgive them.
The war on the four pets: budgerigars, cats, dogs and rabbits was a logical reaction to a political program that had exhausted the conflict weary population to the point that they could only experience the world as being on one side or the other of a political and social see-saw. Having fought with and against friends and enemies again and again, declaring war on domestic animals was a state sanctioned (no apology needed) form of forgiving each other.
MENGELE in ARGENTINA
Australian Galleries, Melbourne, May 30 – June 17
After his time as a Nazi doctor during the war Josef Mengele had to escape Europe for Argentina to avoid being tried and put to death as a war criminal. In Argentina he wanted to develop his research and recording information about identical twins in the lounge room/kitchen, and bathroom in the caravan that he shared with his maid/lover and her daughter. Mengele was particularly interested in identical twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colours), dwarfs, and people with physical abnormalities. Most of Mengele’s experiments involved separating eyes from brains – the eyes are tools for measurement the brain an instrument for understanding. Eyes are excited by detail while the brain considers the context. The eyes tell you why things are different the brain why they’re the same.
Despite being an ocean, a war and decades away from his life as a war criminal in Auschwitz, in Argentina Mengele still imagined a world of people all sharing the same genetic traits – his. Mengele could only create these visions with his eyes closed and during sleep because wartime is like sleep because in both people aren’t fully seen; their past ,their future, their families, their opinions ect. People merely represent the raw material the story you are telling yourself needs.
In Mengele’s Argentina all people sharing the same biological origin become copies of copies and go on to make more copies. A certain amount of diversity and subversion is needed for the health of the human system. No-one wants to be a plumber, everyone a lawyer or a doctor, there are so many doctors in Mengele’s dream that they are unemployed and on park benches feeding pigeons, they are over crowding prisons for petty theft – Mengele himself was jailed for a time in Argentina for practicing medicine without a licence. Over feed giant pigeons roam the streets bullying and killing more exotic and weaker animals.
When people share the same personality type individual idiosyncrasies and small differences are elevated to the status of pop culture and celebrated in mass rallies. In 1950’s Argentina the Guinness Book of World Records began the painstaking recording of the longest fingernail; the biggest earlobe, the furtherest backwards walk ect. When everyone sees everything the same way then there is no surprise, no lying, no art and no advertising. The Guinness Book of Records can store their growing collection of records in abandoned art galleries, theatres, libraries and courtrooms. Only in a dream could someone imagine changing the way people see as preferable to changing what they see.
In the End Pavlov Saw Only Bells and Saliva
AUSTRALIAN GALLERIES, Melbourne 30 MAY – 17 JUNE
Ivan Pavlov never used bells and he just as commonly used orphaned children as he did dogs to experiment on. After Pavlov won the Noble prize in 1904 the scientific community promoted the bells and dogs – rather than the drilling holes in children without complaining parents -angle.
Pavlov had his own bell though. Pavlov carried around with him his wife’s shoe and later his dead wife’s shoe. Pavlov would look at the shoe, feel the shoe and smell the shoe when he didn’t want to feel insignificant and pointless. Pavlov wanted to discover the natural (eternal and internal) systems that determine human behaviour and human feeling. Pavlov and his assistants Vul’fon and Snarski were not just interested in the natural reflexes (salivation) and the conditioned stimuli (bells). Pavlovian conditioning is also about the learning of emotions, preferences and aversions and likes and dislikes and how these can be expressed (salivated) in many different ways.
The most important outcome of Pavlovian conditioning was not the success of the fake stimulation (bells) but the capacity of the fake stimulations (bells) to change how the individual responds to the initial real stimulation – dog food. In Pavlov’s dog foodless world people would become attracted to only fake stimulations and then objects that stimulate a mere memory of or unconscious response to an already established fake stimulation of the first initial fake stimulation. In Pavlov’s dog foodless, saliva drenched world the initial real food or stimulation would be first ignored as regressive and then loathed as humiliating and then dissolved and disappeared all together.
Men in strip clubs respond to the fake stimulations of the lights; music, costumes, make up, podium and pole and the stimulation of the other men. Shoppers in a handbag shop respond to the brands, the photos of models, the celebrity endorsements and the stimulation of the other shopper’s stimulation. Politicians, artists and musicians must have the conditioned stimulation of an origin story to be understood as an authority and as worthy.
Every living thing and every consumable object must be drenched in and floating on the saliva of newly trained fake stimulations in order to be reacted to and made visible. Pavlov dreamed of a world where saliva ran like water through all the pipes and gutters of the cities and irrigated all the farms in the country side. And saliva would drain through rivers into the seas and oceans and create new, ugly and completely inedible marine life.
MAIN PHOTO CREDIT ; Cameron Hayes In the End Pavlov Saw Only Bells and Saliva, 2007 oil on linen, 2 panels overall size: 82 x 100 inches Photo: Hermann Feldhaus Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Art, New York
“And Mao said let the fish be for the heavens, let the birds be for the earth and let the people be everywhere and nowhere. And Mao saw that it was good…
Australian Galleries, Melbourne, opening May 30 6-8pm artist’s talk Saturday 3 June 2pm, show finishes 17 June
AND MAO SAID….
A narcissist experiences the world in crime sized bits – crimes against his or her omnipotence. For chairman Mao and later and alongside Madame Mao the cultural revolution was an attempt at crushing a crime spree.
Being just one in the biggest population in the world and your generation just the latest in an infinite number of proceeding more interesting generations leaves you with living a life of constant humiliation and envitability. For the people of pre-cultural revolution personal significance was an impossibility. The cultural revolution offered the possibility that their place, race and time was the most – potentially the only time, race and place of significance. Rice in general being one of the most important things in the world and world history but a single grain being the most insignifant of objects – rice became a symbol of the power of shared common things, ahistorical essential things, venerating the always overlooked things made the poor people who owned them feel at first special then as always follows – superior. People first dressed in clothes made of rice sacks then inevitably they just wore rice sacks.
DESTRUCTION WITHOUT REPLACEMENT
In massive populations there is the fear of disappearing – in third world politics there is the fear of being disappeared. Mao was shocked by the way his comrade Stalin was disappeared after Stalin’s death during the 50’s and 60’s in Russia by Khrushchev and his followers. Mao didn’t just see Khrushchevs in his government but he saw them in every member of his enourmous population,and in every statue of a past great ,every symbol of religion or europeanism and in every page of historical and creative record. The steam rolling and cementing over of cemeteries, the burning of university libraries and smashing of churches was for Mao and the people the ultimate narcissist fantasy of destruction without replacement.
GENESIS 1. AND GOD SAID….
And God said let the birds be for the sky….and God said let the fishes be for the waters and God saw that it was good. And God said Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness….and God saw that it was good.
Mao and his followers could change the course of rivers, the height of mountains and even the populations of mice, mosquitos and certain types of sparrows. Because they destroyed all the ornamental fish ponds in China, Mao’s red guards had to pile up plastic bags half filled with water and gold fish until they reached the sky. Mao’s war on sparrows meant that the land was covered in birds and Mao’s cult of personality saw everyone dress, talk, think and look like one person. The people could turn historic iron gates into frying pans and pianos into work benches and paintings into floor mats and university professors into cleaners. Street names, shop names and people’s names were no longer set by an alienating past and protected by a yet to be determined future. Everything would belong to the now and the here.
TRAFFIC LIGHTS WITHOUT INTERSECTIONS
By breaking away from his communist party and criticing and encouraging criticism of it, Mao exposed the great swindle of western democracy that of giving the people the choice of two of the same thing. During the cultural revolution and beyond, Mao created divisions in the party to give the people a sense of choice but when the people share a common one direction, choice or symbols of choice ; art religion ,fashion ect… became merely decorations like traffic lights on a road that has no intersections.
The cultural revolution was able in some part to turn the public and historical into the private and contemporary. The shared public humiliation of the previous two hundred years of bulling by foreign nations had the Chinese looking for a completely new way of seeing themselves and the world. The farce or tradgedy of trying to solve systematic problems with biographical solutions was one of the defining qualities of the cultural revolution. People high on the power to change the world to meet their needs turned zoos into supermarkets , aquariums into fish markets, farms into factories and people into tools..The fear of personal impotence was solved by the mass torture of exotic animals. Visitors to the art museums had their portraits painted over the heads of historically important works some not taking of their rice sacks covering their heads. The work done by talentless but well trained party artists.