Monday, May 19, 2008

COUNTERFEIT Degas Bronze Sculptures at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

NOTE: All footnotes are enclosed with { } in this monograph.

All Degas bronze sculptures are -counterfeit-. Edgar Degas was dead{1} when they were made and dead men don't sculpt.

Yet, on May 30, 2008 a so-called Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures exhibition opens at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park located in the State of Michigan{2}.

Under Michigan statutes, counterfeit "means a work of fine art made or altered, with intent to deceive, in a manner that it appears to have an authorship which it does not in fact possess. It includes any work of fine art made, altered or copied in a manner that it appears to have an authorship which it does not in fact possess even though the work may not have been made with intent to deceive."{3}

Despite, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park's February 18, 2008 release titled: "Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures,"{4} the release finally states six paragraphs in that Edgar Degas' heirs posthumously "authorized a series edition of bronze casts."{5}

So, how can the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s -mission- be "to promote the enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of the gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts,"{6} if they are willing to misrepresent posthumous counterfeits as "sculptures?"

Do museums have any published ethical guidelines that address these contentious issues of authenticity?

First, the American Association of Museums' published Code of Ethics states: "Museums and those responsible for them must do more than avoid legal liability, they must take affirmative steps to maintain their integrity so as to warrant public confidence. They must act not only legally but also ethically. This Code of Ethics for Museums, therefore, outlines ethical standards that frequently exceed legal minimums."{7}

One of those ethical standards, for museums, is: "collections in its custody support its mission and public trust responsibilities."{8}

Second, the Association of Art Museum Directors endorses the College Art Association's{9} ethical guidelines on sculptural reproduction{10}. In part, these ethical guidelines state: “All bronze casting from finished bronzes, all unauthorized enlargements, and all transfers into new materials, unless specifically condoned by the artist, all works cast as a result of being in the public domain should be considered as inauthentic or counterfeit. Unauthorized casts of works in the public domain cannot be looked upon as accurate presentations of the artist’s achievement. Accordingly, in the absence of relevant laws and for moral reasons, such works should: -- Not be acquired by museums or exhibited as works of art."{11}

Then to add insult to injury, the National Endowment for the Arts has indemnified{12} ie., insured this so-called "Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures" exhibition being held at the Frederik Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park.

As an independent federal agency and the official arts organization of the United States government, the National Endowment for the Arts states their “Mission” is: “a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education.”{13} Specifically, under "Section 972. Items eligible for indemnity agreements (a) The Council may make a indemnity agreement under this chapter with respect to - 1) works of art, including tapestries, paintings, sculpture, folk art, graphics and craft arts.”{14}

So, what are we to make of the National Endowment for the Arts, when in violation of their Congressional mandate to indemnify works of art, they use the taxpayers' money to insure an exhibit of non-disclosed counterfeits?

On page 816 in the 1998 Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts{15} by John Henry Merryman and Albert E. Elsen, the authors write: "The most serious harm that good counterfeits do is to confuse and misdirect the search for valid learning. The counterfeit object falsifies history and misdirects inquiry. - Museum and art historical resources are always limited. What gets acquired, displayed, conserved and studied is the result of a continuous process of triage, in which some objects can be favoured only at the expense of others. Counterfeit objects distort the process. - There remains the most obvious harm of all: counterfeit cultural objects are instruments of fraud."

Would anyone, much less a museum that misrepresents posthumous counterfeits as “works of arts” ie., sculptures, for admission fees{16}, city-state-federal grants{17} and corporate sponsorships{18}, be committing “a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or concealment of a material fact to induce another to act to his or her detriment"{19} which is one legal definition of fraud?

The reputations and legacy of living and past artists, present and future museum art patrons and the art-buying public deserve the re-establishment of the obvious; that the living presence and participation of the artist to once again be required, as it always should have been, to create the piece of art attributable to the artist if indeed it is attributed to them, much less purported to have been signed by them.

For additional documentation on the Degas Bronze Fraud, link to:

DEGAS BRONZE FAKES, The ABCs of one of the largest...

1. This is confirmed in the National Gallery of Art’s published 1998 Degas at the Races catalogue. On page 180 in Daphne S. Barbour’s and Shelly G. Strum’s “The Horse in Wax and Bronze” essay, these authors write: “Degas never cast his sculpture in bronze, claiming that it was a “tremendous responsibility to leave anything behind in bronze -- the medium is for eternity.” © 1998 National Gallery of Art ISBN 0-300-07517-0

1000 East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525,
(616) 957-1580

3.. SALES OF FINE ART (EXCERPT) Act 121 of 1970 442.321 Art sales warranties; definitions. [M.S.A. 19.410(11) ] Sec. 1.


5. Ibid



8. Ibid

Administrative Office:
120 East 56th Street, Suite 520
New York, NY 10022
Phone: 212-754-8084
Fax: 212-754-8087


11. Ibid



14. “In the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, under Section 952. Definitions (b), the term “the arts” is defined as: “includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film, video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practiced by the diverse peoples of this country. [.] and the study and application of the arts to the human environment.”

15. ISBN 90-411-0697-9 © Kluwer Law International 1998

“Adults (14 - 64): $12.00
Seniors (65 and older): $9.00
Students (w/ student ID): $9.00
Children (5 - 13): $6.00
Children (3 - 4): $4.00
Children (2 and younger): Free”

Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts

DTE Energy Foundation, The Meijer Foundation, Berends Hendricks Stuit, Sculpture Society of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

19. P. 670, Seventh Edition Black’s Law Dictionary, ISBN 0-314-22864-0, Copyright © 1999 by West Group


Anonymous Eric Rohde said...

Just stumbled's a thought. The function of public art institutions ought to be in line with the viewing of the work...original or the extent that such an objective impresses the work itself upon the public and they benefit from it then it has suceeded in its mission. Do "artists" create with the intent that only the original be viewed in order to take away the artists intent/impression? Is the original work imbued with majic that makes it somehow better able to transmit its "meaning" to a viewer. The form of the object is the art....not the originality of the is my WORK ...look at it....take from it what you will...what value you assign is up to you alone.......harping on originality is over rated...and absolutly is the hobgoblin of artists who find their pockets bare and thus retreat to a fundamentalism that excludes broad dissemination of art form claiming..... duh...that is not original.....or that it is an intentional obfuscation by the displayer...the quality of the an issue to be discussed......the faithfulness to the reproduction an issue to be discussed........broad dissemination of the art should be desireable to all including Degas....restricting the viewing availability by insisting upon only viewing originals ....or by insisting upon large bold print disclaimers about non originality does nothing except raise what is ..and should be a have way over-intellectualized your position...."connoisseur" and in so doing have become elitist and exclusionary.....get over is for the viewer....otherwise it is masturbation for the "artist".....let as many see the results of the artists idea and technique of his insist sinister motives behind museums and other institutions is to debase the art far more than is the erecting of a faithfull recreation of the form...and in so doing opening the dialog of the viewers about what the artist was communicating. Its what art is for. Ultimately your rant is about you and how your own self importance is to be found in being....some how above the rest.....alas...your distinction is without like the imagined slight of fraudulent display of art you wail yourself are counterfeit.

10:21 AM, June 08, 2008  
Blogger Gary Arseneau said...

On page 41 of the Seventh Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, ad hominem is defined as: "Appealing to personal prejudices rather to reason; attacking an opponent's character rather than the opponent's assertions."

11:24 AM, June 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, you have put an enormous amount of time, effort and thought into the problem of so called “Original Multiples”, for this I thank you.

Unfortunately the public for the most part is woefully ignorant of what constitutes an original work of art, especially when it comes to anything produced from a matrix such as sculpture, prints and photographs. Your controversial writings help shed light on this very complex problem. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on “art” by collector/investors that have no idea of what they have actually acquired.

A lack of understanding is shown by the previous post by Eric Rohde when he states
“harping on originality is over rated...and absolutly useless”. This comment , reflects the present day situation where people generally are to lazy to educate themselves about art, they refuse to pick up a book and learn, everything is limited to a visual experience.

John Shearer, Toronto

9:50 AM, February 04, 2009  

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