Film review: Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery – explosive scandal documented
Arne Birkenstock’s account of master forger Wolfgang Beltracchi tells a story almost impossible to believe in this era of rigorous carbon dating and hi-tech scrutiny
Winner of the German Film Award for best documentary feature, Arne Birkenstock’s account of master forger Wolfgang Beltracchi tells a story almost impossible to believe in this era of rigorous carbon dating and hi-tech scrutiny. And yet, somehow Beltracchi and his wife Helene, over a period of decades, sold hundreds of forgeries of paintings from the likes of Max Ernst, Heinrich Campendonk and Fernand Leger, banking millions of dollars in the process.
Beltracchi had in fact painted all of these pictures himself, but rather than simply duplicating existing classics, he created entirely new works that were sold at some of the world’s most prestigious auction houses. Able to recognise, adopt and mimic the specific styles of these artists, Beltracchi passed off his creations as lost masterpieces, recycling vintage frames and canvases found at antique fairs to help fool archivists.
Needless to say, when exposed, Beltracchi’s antics sent shockwaves through the art world, destroying the reputations of numerous experts in the process. The film is equally frightening, however, in exposing just how much collectors are at the mercy of so-called experts, while raising valid questions about the true nature and value of art.
There is no denying that Beltracchi was an incredibly skilled artist in his own right, and had he chosen to work under his own name, might very well be considered one of the best of his generation. However, there is no escaping the methodical approach with which he approached his activities, which coupled with his arrogance and apparent lack of remorse for his crimes, makes Beltracchi a difficult man to like, and a far cry from the misguided genius the film attempts to portray.
Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery opens on September 17