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More group discussion on `state of the visual arts'

November 26, 1986

Contemporary art and architecture are discussed on Page 24 today by Theodore F. Wolff, Christopher Andreae, and Carleton Knight III, writers well known in this section. Here, joined again by feature editor Roderick Nordell, they talk about such things as fakes, Post-Modernism as an insiders' joke, and who decides which style of art will be exhibited and praised. Nordell: Have we anything to say about the recent discovery of expert art fakes? Certain objects, such as gold cups and jewel-encrusted things at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have turned out to be not by Cellini, or people of that early period, but by someone from the 19th century.

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One of the philosophical questions that has been brought up here is: ``If you think something is by a noted artist, do you look at it differently from the way you look at it if you are seeing it cold?''

Andreae: I would say, emphatically, you do. And Rembrandt is a more interesting case than Cellini in the sense that -- over the years -- a lot of Rembrandts come and go. Though they aren't necessarily fakes, some stop being Rembrandts.

Wolff: We've got some in New York.

Andreae: Because, really, the response to art, whether by a professional critic or just by somebody who loves art -- and they should really be the same person -- is as a channel to reach that particular quality that belongs to an artist. If you then have a doubt, for good reasons, about whether you're looking at a Rembrandt or not, then you're thinking, ``Well I'm not really going to be able to get at this thing that is so particular'' -- because we're all learners whether we're critics or not. I mean, that's the whole point of the thing. It seems to me that very definitely I look at a Rembrandt that is no longer a Rembrandt with quite different eyes, regardless of its beauty or value or whatever.

Nordell: Would you look at the University of Virginia differently, Carleton, if you didn't know the architect was Thomas Jefferson?

Knight: I suppose the appeal of it is that it's Jefferson. I guess we don't have fakes in architecture. But there are so many new buildings going up these days that are in fact replicas -- or at least taking ideas from others. It doesn't bother me.

Andreae: It depends on whether they do it extrovertedly instead of introvertedly. You take a case like Henry Moore. His whole vision and his sculpture were infiltrated by other cultures and by other ages and other periods and other sculptural work. But it was integral. It became part of what he was doing and his individuality. He took it over and really digested it.

Wolff: There is one other point. I think that a really great work of art or something by the hand of one of the great draftsmen, painters, sculptors is perceived as something of a sacred relic. We feel a kind of awe in the presence of it. I'm convinced that 90 percent of the so-called great art that is sold is of third-rate quality and that the only reason it's getting those high prices is because it has that sacred relic aspect to it. It is something by the hand of a master.

But I still will go to the Rembrandts that have been declared not by his hand. I'm thinking particularly of one -- it's the woman cutting her nails. As far as I'm concerned it has all the characteristics of Rembrandt. Now, there are going to be some Rembrandts of which I'd never say this - of which I'd say: No, I don't believe this is by Rembrandt.

Nordell: Then the nonwriter on art or architecture, going and seeing things by unknown artists and by famous artists, can simply respond to the work itself and not worry about whether he ought to like it?

Wolff: Hopefully, yes.