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Fake It ’till You Make It – ‘Made You Look’ Netflix Documentary

Imagine traveling across the country to visit a museum that houses paintings by some of the biggest names in art, only to later find out that the Pollock you admired was a fake. Or worse yet, purchasing a painting for millions only to find out that it’s not authentic. Believe it or not, this happens more frequently than you would expect. In the latest documentary available on Netflix, we are shown some of these surprises happening behind the scenes.

Fake RothkoNew discoveries are happening regularly. Paintings by legendary masters both new and old are appearing out of nowhere. Da Vinci’s uncovered, hidden away behind walls, forgotten by time. A Yves Tanguy is pulled from a dumpster. These are headlines from just the past three years. So it was no surprise to a famed art dealer, Ann Freedman when she was approached with a painting believed to be a never-seen-before Rothko. That Rothko was soon followed by Pollocks, additional Rothkos, as well as other prominent abstract artists. Many of these pieces selling to private collectors for millions.

When a new painting brought to light there are certain steps that are taken to authenticate the piece. Experts who have dedicated their entire careers to studying the artist in question are brought in. An analysis is done on the signature and the age of the canvas. The noticeable paintbrush strokes are closely studied. Samples of paint are tested and backstories are investigated. Each of these steps is critical when millions are on the line.

The Documentary

In the documentary, ‘Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art’, we are given a backstage tour of how someone can go to extreme lengths in faking all the criteria. In many cases, these fakes are done so well that they are able to fool most. It has even been estimated that as many as 20% of the paintings that hang in museums and galleries today may very well be fake.

In the case of Freedman, experts are still in debate as to whether or not she knew she was in possession of fakes. From 1994 to 2009, Freedman oversaw the sale of over $80 million worth of bogus paintings. This debate led to ten lawsuits against Freedman as well as the Knoedler gallery she worked for. Nine of the cases were settled before trial. One of these cases was taken all the way to the courtroom. Just as Freedman was preparing to take the stand as the final witness, the plaintiff was able to reach a settlement ending the trial abruptly.

Ann Freedman courtroom illustration - Fake Art

A drawing by Victor Juhasz of the defense team for the Knoedler Gallery forgery trial, with ex Knoedler president Ann Freedman.

The damage that occurred as far as the reputations of careers and museums will forever carry the scars of these events. The Knoedler Gallery had been in business for 165 years, surviving two world wars as well as the civil war but could not survive this scandal and closed its doors. Private collectors and museum curators have become more hesitant to purchase pieces.

So what is the difference between a fake and a reproduction?

A fake is when someone tries to age the canvas and or materials. A forged or fake painting will also include an attempt to reproduce the original artist’s signature. These attempts are done in full malice, with the intent to dupe people out of millions. At overstockArt.com, we specialize in reproductions. We reproduce the painting with oil on canvas to give the viewer the same feeling as the original. However, we try to not include the artist’s signature whenever possible. We also are not attempting to pass off any of our paintings as originals.

Feel free to browse our extensive collection and find a reproduction of your favorite pieces. Whether you’re looking for a piece to invite conversation or you are just looking for the touch of a hand-painted oil piece to brighten your space, there is something for everyone.

Amanda Durham

About the Author

Amanda studied Fine Arts as a Stone Scholar at Butler Community College and Integrated Marketing Communications with emphasis in Advertising and minored in Graphic Design.