Saturday, 16 April 2011

Expert Incompetence, Incompetent expertise


DETECTIVE CONSTABLE Lawson, from the Metropolitan Police Arts & Antiquities Unit, stood his ground last night against a torrent of questions at a packed meeting of northerners at Bolton Museum & Art Gallery, dealing with the role of fakes and frauds in British art. Little old ladies from Bolton and beyond suddenly came to resemble Madame Defarge brandishing knitting needles as they pieced the smug, dissembling front of D.C. Lawson as he did his best to uphold the integrity of the London art establishment faced with the Greenhalgh trio's perpetuation of one of the most cheeky frauds in history. For 17 years the genius of Shaun and George Greenhalgh, from their Bromley Cross council house in Bolton, had undermined a pompous southern elite of 'experts' until in 2007, when they were convicted. Shaun Greenhalgh was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months, and his dad to a suspended sentence. Shaun was released from Preston Prison in March 2010 and returned to his dad's house on The Crescent in Bromley Cross, Bolton. Last night, one wag told me that he may now be in Amsterdam: presumably studying the Dutch School of Art.

Earlier at a preview of the exhibition, visitors who paid £5 apiece, had seen the case for the defence of the art expert represented on a notice thus: 'Features fraudulent artworks from real crime cases, this display shows how successful forgeries find a place in the art market, not because of the incompetence of the expert, but because of the changing strategies of the criminal.'

Above all, it seems, the London art market must be protected from the likes of Shaun Greenhalgh, and his Dad and Mum. Another notice declares that in Section 1 of the exhibition we must 'consider the nature of this crime on the London art market', and we learn that the other four Sections 'explore the extreme lengths fraudsters go in order to fool the (poor) experts'.

In a powerpoint presentation D.C. Lawson did his level best to side step and gloss over the embarrassment of the Art Capital's feeble handling of the Greenhalgh case; with a flourish he explained his part as a member of the Arts & Antiquities Unit saying: 'Our primary role is to protect the London art market' because fakes, like those of the Greenhalgh's, 'Do damage to the (art) institutions and experts who have been deceived.' The 'experts' and their 'expertise' must not be offended, particularly by northern folk working in their garden sheds. We must, said police officer Lawson, realise that with the credit crunch, declining property prices and uncertainty in the stock market, that pension funds (where the poor have their money as well as the rich) and other investors invest in the art market. Thus art becomes a defensive stock just like gold and commodities.

It was a fascinating presentation attended by big-wigs from down South as well as locals like us. D.C. Lawson had folk laughing from time to time and his talk brought up some serious issues. 'Who unmasked Shaun Greenhalgh?', asked one lady. 'It was the experts at the British Museum; they spotted a small spelling mistake in Shaun's work (on the Assyrian relief)', exclaimed D.C. Lawson. I interrupted: 'But this was not the case - it was not the British Museum who discovered the error - they repeatably authenticated Shaun's work; it was a specialist at Bonham's Art Auction House.' No doubt the British Museum and its director, Neil McGregor, had sent the Assyrian relief to Bonham's for a valuation so as to gloat over how good a bargain they had got out of stupid George Greenhalgh. D.C. Lawson never answered these questions preferring to assert: 'I don't support people who defraud other people.'

Another lady asked: 'Why don't you legitimise Shaun Greenhalgh, because I would be willing to pay money for his work?' Again no proper answer came back. Nor did the lady who asked if the London Metropolitan Police would be willing to donate the Amarna Princess statue to Bolton Museum. No joy again from D.C. Lawson!

Shaun Greenhalgh is undoubtedly a man of many talents and even the London Arts & Antiquities Unit admit that he is the most 'diverse forger' they have ever encountered: most forgers specialising in one artist, a narrow area or genre. But, as I pointed out he is the only one that is not making anything out of this work. The London Metropolitan Police are using it, as have the dramatists on TV who have made films of the 'Artful Codgers', the educationalists are using it to show how deceptions are committed on the art market but not Shaun Greenhalgh who produced it. It seems ironic that those propping up the art market and creating art as a commodity should benefit while the humble producer of the works is left to fend for himself. As I came away people snapped up Northern Voices 10 with our Greenhalgh editorial in it, one man said 'To me Greenhalgh is a hero!'

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