Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

PI editorial, Fri May 10
by Lindsay Perigo

One of the sideshows in the circus that is New Zealand politics at the moment is "Paintgate" - the Prime Minister's art forgeries. Helen Clark put her signature on paintings done by others - in some cases members of her staff - for charities who would auction them as the Prime Minister's very own handiwork. Now, the police are investigating her for fraud. If they lay charges & obtain a conviction, the Prime Minister will be obliged to resign & relocate herself from Parliament to one of Her Majesty's five-star hotels for up to ten years.

Precedents will not be reassuring for the Prime Minister. My own uncle, the "Foxton Forger," hoodwinked the New Zealand art establishment for years by doing paintings & drawings in the style of well-known artists & then adorning them with the "signatures" of those artists. When Frances Hodgkins became posthumously fashionable, a surfeit of hitherto undiscovered Hodgkins water-colours suddenly & mysteriously flooded the market, all, by a remarkable coincidence, emanating from Foxton. Locations in this vicinity, such as the banks of the Manawatu River, began to yield up the most amazing artistic rarities, as my uncle just happened to stumble upon them. He took a batch of van der Welden pencil drawings to the National Art Gallery & was not allowed to leave the precincts until he'd handed them over to a very excited curator. They certainly looked authentic, having been aged by urine & tea leaves.

Not everyone was taken in. One auctioneer was heard to remark, "If any more art treasures are discovered in Foxton, I shall be sick." Finally, a C.F. Goldie aficionado tumbled to the fact that the "Goldies then surfacing from Foxton displayed a very different brush-stroke technique from the master's. My uncle was charged, convicted, & sentenced to paint a mural on the Foxton public toilets. The Prime Minister might prefer jail.

The Prime Minister conspired to pass off paintings done by someone else as done by her. My uncle conspired to pass off paintings done by him as done by someone else. What the legal import of that distinction might be I don't know. While the whole affair might occasion great mirth, what is not funny is what those who signed their own names to their own paintings have conspired to pass off as art - the Jackson Pollocks, Colin McCahons, Andy Warhols, Billy Apples et al. These gentlemen have presented us with the Age of Crap, often literally. More politely, Ayn Rand pointed to "the cultural bankruptcy of our age." Their monstrosities - & the willing acquiescence thereto by the artistic illuminati - are far more criminal in my book than any petty-deceit practised by my uncle or the Prime Minister.

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