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The Scientist and the Forger: Insights into the Scientific Detection of Forgery in Paintings

by Jehane Ragai
Imperial College Press, London, England, 2015
284 pp. Trade, $58.00; paper, $29.00; e-book, $23.00
ISBN: 978-1-78326-739-2; 978-1-78326-740-8; 978-1-78326-742-2.

Reviewed by Brian Reffin Smith
Collège de 'Pataphysique, Paris


We suppose that we know what a fake and a forgery are. But can we fake or forge our own work? In a sense, don't some artists do this all the time? The subtitle, Insights into the Scientific Detection of Forgery in Paintings, is a good description of what most of the book is ostensibly about, with an overview and illustrated examples of techniques old, modern and cutting edge, dedicated to differentiating between two images which are apparently the same, or unique paintings which may or may not be the work of a recognised artist.

But the context in which this scholarly study originated was a paper given by the author, Jehane Ragai of the American University, Cairo, to the American Philosophical Society. Thus as well as the techniques and scientific methodology, she deals interestingly with the psychology of the forger and those who might judge, display, buy or sell the work. That some forgers have produced "copies" that are clearly no such thing is perhaps amusing but also intriguing.

And again, a book apparently for experts in the detection of forgeries and those who might need this expertise provides a wealth of ideas and stimuli for the artist him- or herself. I look forward to seeing a show of transversal sections, perhaps microscopically enlarged, of works whose flat surface can only be imagined. Or, in these days of often authoritarian interactivity, real-time scans, fluorescence studies, bits chopped off and observed through microscopes as visitors become investigators. The question then for the artist is of course: investigators of what? What sort of artwork could I make that would adequately present such a field of inquiry to the spectator-as-scientist? What might it be "about".

Last Updated 1 August 2016

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