Picasso answers

By Dr. Joseph J Kozma

It is said or it is only a rumor that at a party honoring Picasso, a guest holding a framed painting attributed to the honoree approached the master and asked him whether or not he thought that the picture was original. The guest thought that he had an original Picasso but he was not sure.

Picasso looked awhile. He looked like a 16th century physician, contemplating a glass container with a specimen. He looked at the guest and asked: “How much did you pay for it?” The man mentioned an obscenely high figure. At that point Picasso laughed and said “This is an original.” The man who had a mouthful of saliva, waiting for the answer, swallowed quickly and happily.

This story unearthed a similar story that was stored in my mind. Here it is. There is a picture hanging in my office depicting a surgeon performing an operation with an ordinary table fork. I suppose it illustrates “bread and butter” surgery. Other surgeons are looking on. The picture is attributed to Xavier Cugat, whom you might remember. He was a band leader and had a TV show with a chihuahua in the pocket of his jacket. Few people knew that he was also an illustrator, painter and decorator.

My picture is unsigned, but on the back, written in pencil is the following: This is an original of mine Cugi. Here is the problem: I have a picture that I have had for at least 30 years. Now I find an identical one on the internet for sale and is called “ORIGINAL.” Of course I cannot ask Cugat for his opinion. Even if I could and he would reassure me one way or the other, I could not be sure. Because Picasso’s answer tells me that the authentity of an art object can be verified by other than the eyes of an expert.

In analyzing these stories one wonders how much objectivity and how much forgery is in the art world, (artists, dealers and experts). The answer is that there is very little in the first category and a great deal in the second. It seems as if Picasso was not sure until he heard the price. He authenticated the picture not on looks, on quality, on detectable brushstrokes, color combination, etc. No, he based it on the price.

Trade in forgery of art objects is not new and it certainly was flourishing in Picasso’s time. Forgery sold well. It was presented as being an original at a bargain price. The originals commanded high prices. A real collector had a hard time avoiding forgeries because some artists themselves promoted it. It is also said that Picasso one time declared that he would sign a forgery if it looked good.

Over the years, forgeries have been replaced by reproductions. They are identified as such and command high prices but represent only a fraction what the “originals” would command.

In conclusion, one could safely say that Picasso’s guest may have had a reproduction in spite of the master’s opinion. My picture could be in the same category. Ultimately it really makes no difference.

It looks good on the wall. It may be an “original,” an ”original reproduction,” or an “original copy.”

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