Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: books about museums (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: False Impressions: The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes

reposted from editor emeritus Amanda Kay Gustin.

False Impressions: The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes
Thomas Hoving

This book is fairly typical of all Hoving’s popular works, which is to say it’s uncomfortably gossipy, breathtakingly arrogant, and compulsively readable.

The overall narrative of the book is split into two parts, and for me it didn’t really get going until the second half. The first part is Hoving’s chronological overview of art forgery through time, starting with Roman forgeries of Greek originals and coming up through the present day. The second part of the book is much more interesting, and follows Hoving himself through several major forgeries that he’s unmasked (or tried to unmask) in museums throughout the world.

The first thing to understand about this book is that Hoving is never wrong, in anything. Even the fakes he purchased for the Met were ones that he felt uneasy about to begin with, and his gut was eventually proven correct. Disputes with other curators were of their own making, and they always loved him in the end. Eminent experts who fell for fakes are lesser, gullible, sad specimens. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he was responsible for bringing Velazquez’s Juan de Pareja to the Met.

That overwhelming arrogance is particularly on play in this book, as part of his thesis on fakebusters (those who are particularly gifted at detecting forgeries) is that they have an innate sixth sense, a superior eye that allows them to instantly make judgments that ultimately, after further study, appear correct. Hoving himself, of course, has this eye.

In spite – or perhaps because of? – this personal heroism, this book is a great read. Hoving is a gifted storyteller, and he holds nothing back, giving you the constant impression of being let into his inner circle as he shares secrets, gossip, and information that would probably embarrass all sorts of people.

From a museology point of view, I was primarily struck by two things. First, Hoving has a very black and white view of what a “fake” is and he doesn’t allow for much sophistication in thinking about the concept. For him, any work of art that is not 100% by the original artist is a fake. No in-the-style-of could possibly be as good as the original. He frequently recounts stories of art that has been so extensively restored that it is now worthless, and no longer original. He doesn’t really allow for any further thinking about why someone might imitate a style, or what the line in over-restoring is, or what compels an art forger beyond money. Anyone who paints, sculpts, or otherwise makes art in a style not their own is committing a sin, full stop. Not really any moral gray areas or ambiguities there.

Second, and this one pained me quite a bit as the book went on: Hoving’s concept of the museum begins and ends with expensive masterpieces. Money is nothing in the pursuit of a really good piece of art, and the millions spent on fakes by both himself, his curators, and the other museums he tells of are simply the price you pay in the collecting game. Education for him happens almost entirely through exhibitions that expose the masses to what they ought to know. The only time he talks about education “for the public” what he really means is an intensively scholarly weekend symposium that he put together on forgery – and by public, what he really means are rich collectors who might end up donating to the Met. Money is only to be used in pursuit of his particular version of perfection; woe to those who might want to use it to make school tours free, or expand art education in low income communities.

In the end, this was a highly entertaining read that frustrated me at times, but also made me think. It’s a good weekend or beach read while still being “on topic” for museum professional development.


Read more on Amanda Kay Gustin’s blog, Amblering.

Reminder! John Falk Book Discussion & Drinking About Museum

This is your reminder that the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is hosting not one but two fantastic professional development events next week. Everyone should try to make at least one of them!

First up is on Wednesday, June 6. The NEMA Young and Emerging Professionals and the Greater Boston Museum Educators’ Roundtable are co-sponsoring a book discussion group of Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, by John Falk, and – most excitingly – Falk himself will be joining in by Skype.

Networking for the event is from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m., and the discussion group itself is from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. To RSVP, email Emily Silet – esilet[at]decordova[dot]org.

Then on Thursday, June 7 is the next installment of the fabulous Drinking About Museums series. I’ve copied the text right over from Ed Rodley’s blog:

We’re continuing our ambitious agenda of museum visits followed by drinking, and this month, we’re moving out into the ‘burbs, this time to Lincoln, MA, and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.  Their new Gary Webb show will be up and our hostess, Jennifer Schmitt  is hoping we might do a bit of  brainstorming about how deCordova might employ digital technologies in their future plans. Bring your thinking caps!

We’ll be at deCordova at 4:30PM looking for you.  DM me (@erodley) or Jenn (@bantryhill) if you get lost or delayed.

Afterwards, we will adjourn to The Colonial Inn in Concord for refreshments. It’s a short drive from deCordova, so leave yourself transit time. If you can’t join us for the museum part, come meet us in Concord! Burgers and beer will be had and more conversation will follow!

June 7th, 4:30PM
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
51 Sandy Pond Road
Lincoln, MA 01773

drinks following at 6PM 
Concord’s Colonial Inn
48 Monument Sq.
Concord, MA 01742

YEP Book Club & Networking

Heads up – the NEMA Young and Emerging Professionals and the Greater Boston Museum Educators Roundtable are teaming up to present a great night of discussion and networking at the DeCordova Sculpture Park & Museum.

Greater Boston Museum Educators’ Roundtable and the New England Museum Association Young and Emerging Museum Professionals bring you a discussion and question and answer session with John Falk, author of “Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience”.

Mr Falk will be joining the book club via Skype.

Join us for networking from 4:00pm-6:00pm and for Book Club with John Falk from 6:00pm – 8:00pm.

Please RSVP to both/either event by emailing Emily Silet at

Interested in carpooling to the event? The New England Museum Association is helping to arrange carpooling to the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park for the event. Please contact Leslie Howard at if you are interested in carpooling. Please be mindful that NEMA cannot guarantee carpool arrangements.

Book Review: Making It In The Art World, by Brainard Cary

We’re going to have occasional guest reviews of museum-related books going forward. This is our first, by Tufts student Molly Braswell. If you’d like to review a museum book, please comment on any post or email the editor. If you’d like to review books, but don’t have a particular one in mind, we’ve got a long list to work through and can hook you up!

Making it in the Art World: New Approaches to Galleries, Shows, and Raising Money
By Brainard Cary

Brainard Carey’s book, Making it in the Art World: New Approaches to Galleries, Shows, and Raising Money, is written for artists who either want to establish their careers, or
propel and improve their existing careers. His book is a how-to guide with a workbook component. In the book Carey delivers information about how to be a successful artist,
mostly through personal anecdotes and experiences. At the end of each chapter he gives the reader space to answer some questions and respond to certain prompts; these sections are designed to keep the reader on track with his or her career. The workbook aspect is well thought out and helpful, but Carey’s reflections and tips in the chapters are often redundant and common sense. In my opinion, Carey missed out on a great opportunity to create an artist’s workbook, complete with a calendar/scheduling component. This, for the average artist who works from home and without a fixed schedule, could be really helpful. Where Carey misses the mark, however, is with the book’s content.

Carey is a working artist whose pieces have been exhibited all over the world, most notably at the Whitney Museum of American Art and MOMA. He owns a company called The Art World Demystified, which produces tools and materials designed to help artists further their careers. The pro and con of Carey’s book, is the use of his own personal experiences as an artist. On the one hand, it is nice to hear advice that has worked for someone; on the other hand, Carey’s delivery often feels patronizing. For example, the fact that the chapters are titled things like: “Getting into the Whitney Biennial” (which Carey did), makes the book seem a little condescending. Because most of his content is derived from personal experience, the book sometimes reads as an ode to Carey’s genius handling of his career. Other times it reads as an advice column from someone who has “made it.” The truth is that Carey probably does know what he’s doing, and his success and career are proof of that. However, the book would be much more successful if the anecdotes were less prominent, and if there was more of a focus on the practical advice.

This book, if it had been a workbook with practical how-to sections, would have been successful and very useful. The short chapters and approachable writing make for a quick and easy read, and Carey is right to assume that working artists might need frequent support and a few nudges to help them stay on track. The book excels in its ability to make the reader accountable for his or her career. But Carey’s helpful advice is often overpowered by the many anecdotes about his successes, and the advice is hard to take seriously when it is surrounded by common sense suggestions like: don’t drink too much at work parties, and always write thank you notes.

As someone who tried, albeit for only a short time, to make art for a living, I was anxious to read Carey’s book. In my opinion, the art field does need to be taken more seriously, and likewise, artists need to take themselves more seriously. It is clear that to be a successful artist one must approach art like a job, and there is obviously a need for  helpful, how-to books that explain this. Carey is somewhat successful in his attempt. While he is right to use his own experiences to help get his points across, he should have relied on them less and he should have spent more time on the practical tips and suggestions.

NEMA YEPS Book Club Tonight!

Reminder: tonight, the NEMA Young and Emerging Professionals will be hosting a book club discussion of Socialnomics by Erik Qualman.

The YEPS are meeting from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Old State House.

Here’s their announcement:

NEMA YEPs Book Club #3

When: Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 6:00-8:00 pm

Where: Bostonian Society, Old State House, 206 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02109

Who: All museum professionals interested in reading and discussing the book of choice. Books are chosen through in-person event voting and online voting via the YEPs Facebook page.

Book: “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business” by Erik Qualman

Join the NEMA YEPs for their third book club meeting on Wednesday, March 14, at 6:00 pm, at the Old State House in Boston! The book discussion will focus on Erik Qualman’s “Socialnomics,” highlighting how museums can utilize social media as an education and interpretation tool, to build community, to strengthen relationships, and to expand their reach and visibility. Not sure if the book is for you? Check out this video, by the author, on YouTube: for an amazing overview of how social media truly is ‘transforming the way we live and do business.’

From the inside flap of “Socialnomics”:

“Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are fundamentally changing the way businesses and consumers behave, connecting hundreds of millions of people to each other via instant communication. This is a massive socio-economic shift that is fundamentally changing the way consumers and companies communicate and interact with each other.

Welcome to the world of Socialnomics—where consumers and the societies they create online have a profound influence on our economy and the businesses that operate within it. Online word of mouth and the powerful influence of peer groups have already made many traditional marketing strategies obsolete. Today’s best businesses and marketers are learning to profitably navigate this new landscape…

In “Socialnomics,” Erik Qualman offers a fascinating look at the impact of social media on business to reveal what the future holds and how businesses can best take advantage of it. He explores how social media is changing the way businesses produce, market, and sell products; how it eliminates inefficient marketing tactics and middlemen; and how businesses are connecting directly with their customers through popular social media platforms.”

For more information on the Bostonian Society and Old State House,

For more information on “Socialnomics” and Erik Qualman, visit:

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