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Stolen Art2007

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  • 4.0
In New York City in 1978, an unknown Czech artist by the name of Pavel Novak held an exhibit at WX Gallery entitled "Stolen Art," which featured paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Gustave Courbet, Vincent van Gogh and other great masters, all reproduced with astonishing accuracy by Novak. Following the claim by a private collector that one painting, Courbet's "The Calm Sea" was actually an original stolen from his home, the FBI shut down the exhibit and Novak disappeared without a trace. In investigating the scandal created by this outlaw artist, filmmaker Simon Backès learns that few today are aware of the event while those who are refuse to speak about it. In trying to determine whether Novak was a brilliant art forger or a remarkable thief, however, the mystery merely thickens and the question becomes not so much who created what, but who created whom?

Member Reviews (2)

top reviewer

It is as if someone, calling himself Pavel Novak, had brought to life the ambitions of the character Wyatt Gwyon from William Gaddis's "The Recognitions" (1952). In the book, Wyatt paints perfect copies of masterpieces for an unscrupulous man who sells them as originals. Finally, Wyatt, armed with proof that he is the artist of these copied works wants to go public, but no one--the buyers, sellers, critics--will even listen to him. No one wants to believe that it is even possible to copy an object they fetishize, to blur their recognition of a master's hand. It's as if Pavel Novak read that book and tried Wyatt's experiment. It appears Gaddis was right--no one wants to talk about what should have been a notorious incident in the art collecting world. The art world would sooner forget that it can be collectively fooled and that to this day, questions remain about the provenance of works that change hands for fortunes or have been displayed in prestigious institutions for generations. The beauty of it is that even if someone claiming to be Pavel Novak came forward, would anyone believe him?

Any art forgery story is fascinating and this one is no different. Although it does not completely resolve at the end, it is still a fascinating piece of art history and how forgery can be executed.