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.
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
THE EMPTY SUIT. Australian Galleries, SYDNEY Sept.3-22
One Sunday I went to the antiques and collectables market in an empty ground floor carpark -112 West 25th.St. NY. The market was packed with people and covered in other people’s junk. In the far corner there was an empty space only two men and their few items for sale. Later that night I made a drawing of their space.
I had made a picture called ORPANAGES MAKE THE BEST SKYSCRAPERS it was about how the rise in public conservatism had mirrored with the rise of single mothers, absent fathers and public fatherlessness. Orphans – people without fathers were having their need to win affection/approval from a strong white male figure exploited by big corporations – skyscrapers.
HR departments of big corporations look for people who are willing to work unpaid overtime, eat lunch at their desk, take home work and unconsciously absorb the ideals and objectives of the corporation. These people without fathers are still suffering from the wish fulfillment fantasy developed in infancy with their breast feeding mothers and needing a father to help them escape from. Attracted to the coldest and oldest men in suits orphans work their ways to the top of the skyscrapers only to be unfulfilled as they become the object of the needy themselves. Many orphans fall in the climb and chalk drawings circle around the bottom of the skyscrapers like sharks, others take their individually tailored chalk drawings with them in their briefcases.
A garage sale is a presentation of your life to the public, your stall is your life told in objects – junk. The two men in their stall at the antiques and collectables market gave off an immediate air of akward sexuality – they seemed captive to it. The first man caught in the act of stealing glances at a underwear catalogue was wearing a $2 shop wig and seated as if posing for a school photo. The second man wore thick make-up like a clown and wore a bright yellow rain coat that looks more like protection from judgement than the rain.
The two men of uncertain masculinity had surrounded themselves/their lives with ultra male objects ; toy soldiers, army equipment, hunting trophies, super hero comics, gun and hunting magazines. Their stall looked like a plea for us the public to confirm/buy their maleness.
I painted the repo man at art school, it’s a family portrait. As a child my family owned nothing everything was rented or on higher purchase. My father absent emotionally always and physically most of the time was an unreliable and dishonest money manager. My family faced having all our stuff reposessed regularly.
In the picture my father as the repo man is taking back the one thing the family feared the most – the TV. In an effort to stop the repo man an aunty on my father’s side is showing some leg to stop the repo man, while an uncle on my father’s side is offering one of my sisters as a trade for the T.V. My oldest sister has dressed up in her best first communion dress to beg for the T.V. In the background far corner of the room I’m holding tight what I feared most the repo man would take – my pet rabbit.
My mother used me as stick to beat my father with, she praised me for qualities he lacked and pointed out to him his lack of influence – bad influence on me.A feeling of stealing from my father his wife’s affection and the responsibility of being the sole recipient of my mother’s male love made me uncomfortable with female attention and compliments from girls made me cringe. For this reason I didn’t have a girlfriend till my late twenties. People thought I was gay, asexual or just too into painting to notice girls, I probably looked to them as the two men at the market stall looked to me.
Wheelchair ballet school in Vivekananda Rd, Calcutta. AUSTRALIAN GALLERIES SEPT.3-22
Wheelchair ballet school in Vivekananda Rd, Calcutta
Oil on linen, 198 x 213 cm
In 1999 while visiting Calcutta I had to use Vivikananda Road. Vivikananda Road is full
of old, frail men carrying ridiculously oversized loads of stuff on their backs. The legs they
use to stumble around in circles on – all have gamey bandages wrapped around their
knees and ankles, and they are always bumping into each other and blaming the other
guy. That day when I was walking through Vivikananda Road a 20-metre metal pole
smashed into my eye, the pole was invisibly thin and rusty and the old man carrying it
over his shoulder was walking sideways and his head was facing the ground, he started
yelling at me in Hindi. I apologised “sorry for getting my fucking cornea in the way of your
rusty pole “. I made this drawing that night at the hostel. And when I got home I made a
painting on Vivekananda Rd called They opened a plastic surgery next to the mental
In 2008 I was in China just before the Olympics. The torch relay was covered by one TV
station there 24 hours a day and because the Communist government pay everyone the
same they have to reward their bureaucrats with favours such as running in the torch
relay, but there are so many bureaucrats in China that the torch legs are divided into only
5 metres each – so it looks more like pass the parcel than a relay
The torch relay had many photo opportunities to show Chinese culture. On one day the
TV showed the torch passing through a Wheelchair Ballet school so I made a drawing
that night and a painting when I got home, the painting formed part of a multi-panel called
The Olympic torch relay in Xinjiang Province
- The young girls at the Chinese wheelchair ballet school moving around the basketball
court waving their arms in the air and bumping into each reminded me of the elderly men
in Vivekananda Rd. I liked the idea of these children having all their disabilities beneath
them – behind them, and the elderly having them all above them – in front of them. There
is left to them a small space in between to do something, and with that space they do
everything they can.
In Vivekananda Rd. Calcutta all the buildings are battered up and patched up many times over. On both sides of the road and they form a guard of honour for the beaten up and and patched up people who walk down it.
“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.