REVIEW: Genuine Fakes by Lydia Pyne
Is the distinction between “real” and “fake” as clear-cut as we think?
Does an authentic Andy Warhol painting need to be painted by Andy Warhol? Should we be outraged that some of those famous scenes in Blue Planet were filmed in a lab? Who are the scientists putting ever-more improbable flavors in our Jelly Belly beans? Welcome to the world of “genuine fakes”–the curious objects that fall in between things that are real and things that are not. Unsurprisingly, the world is full of genuine fakes that defy simple categorization. Whether or not we think that those things are authentic is a matter of perspective.
In Genuine Fakes, historian Lydia Pyne explores how the authenticity of eight genuine fakes depends on their unique combinations of history, science and culture. The stories of art forgeries, fake fossils, nature documentaries, synthetic flavors, museum exhibits, Maya codices and Paleolithic replicas shows that genuine fakes are complicated and change over time. Drawing from historical archives, interviews, museum exhibits, science fiction as well as her own research, Pyne brings each genuine fake to life through unexpected and often outrageous stories.
Can people move past assuming that a diamond grown in a lab is a fake? What happens when a forged painting or manuscript becomes more valuable than its original? Genuine Fakes will make readers think about all the unreal things that they encounter in their daily lives and why they invoke the reactions–surprise, wonder, understanding or annoyance–that they do.
Dear Ms. Pyne,
When I saw the title of this book, I couldn’t help but think about the “fake news” that’s all over the media now. I pulled up the blurb to see what the book would be about (since the cute chick on the cover wasn’t helping) and decided this could be very interesting. It seemed as if it were going to cover a wide range of things and as a fan of the BBC nature series, I was feeling a little outraged at the thought that not all of those scenes were real. Had Sir David lied to me?
What happens when original Andy Warhol silk screens are found and an artist uses them to make more images? Are the prints “real” – since they use the exact materials that Warhol used in the manner he used them and he is known to have just signed works that his assistants actually made – or are they fake since Warhol was already dead? Are man made diamonds that come without the risk of financing warlords or the danger to miners better than the natural ones which took billions of years to make? They’re both carbon atoms arranged just so.
Is it better for tourists to have a replica of Chauvet Cave (check it out online – “Chauvet – Pont d’Arc Cave) than not get to “experience” it at all due to the risk of destroying the cave art just by looking at it and breathing? How astonishing is it that the works of the “Spanish Forger” are now being bought (at astounding prices) and collected for their own sake instead of as authentic medieval art?
I ended up learning a lot from the tidbits and explanations that accompanied the stories of fakes that were once passed off as real, another thing now thought (by most scholars but not quite all) real that was once dismissed with a sniff as faux (Grolier Codex), the olfactory assault and unbelievable amount of work involved in prepping the bones of a Blue Whale for display, and how 19th century Americans had tasted banana flavoring before most of them had ever even seen a real banana. Are flavors still artificial if they are the exact chemical composition of the real thing? I’ll also pass on trying vomit flavored Jelly Bellies though I’ll believe that modern flavoring techniques and scientific analysis probably get it correct.
The examples used also made me pause and think a lot about how fake can become real and why in some cases (diamonds and paleolithic cave paintings) this is beneficial and a more ethical route to travel down. Once I’d learned exactly which “Blue Planet” scenes got faked, I can understand why it was done and it even answered my own questions of “how’d they film that scene?” It’s all to make life less stressful for the animals and less dangerous for the film makers. Some explanations tended to drift a bit and were extended maybe a mite too much but overall this was an interesting plunge into what makes or changes our perceptions of what is real. B