SPIEGEL Interview with Wolfgang Beltracchi Confessions of a Genius Art Forger
Part 6: 'Nothing Is Easier Than a Pollock'
SPIEGEL: Perhaps they'll fall off the wall soon in one museum or another?
Beltracchi: Let's just let them hang. Wouldn't it be the height of vanity if I were to tell you now where which paintings could still be hanging?
SPIEGEL: This isn't exactly what one imagines as a full confession.
Beltracchi: Wait a minute. I made a confession about the paintings that were the subject of the trial. Aside from that, if the police had asked me at the time, I would have told them where the paintings were, at least as far as I knew.
Helene Beltracchi: If anyone thinks he has a Beltracchi hanging in his house, he should contact us.
Beltracchi: And he'll get an honest answer.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an image in your head of every painting you've forged?
Beltracchi: Every one of them. There also about 300,000 to 400,000 paintings in there that I've seen in my life. One has quite a lot of room up there.
SPIEGEL: Would you still forge paintings today?
Beltracchi: I might have a few painters in reserve. But it was bothering me more and more to sign my paintings with someone else's signature. Besides, I somehow lost interest. I didn't feel good about it anymore.
SPIEGEL: Were there enough gaps in art history?
Helene Beltracchi: The Internet makes it much more difficult to find these gaps. Everything is documented. And it's practically impossible for art after World War II. That American case that was reported at the end of last year, the one with the forged Pollocks, de Koonings, Rothkos, it just can't work.
Beltracchi: I could have painted that too. Nothing is easier than a Pollock.
SPIEGEL: You certainly don't suffer from a lack of self-confidence.
Beltracchi: No. I can paint anything. Leonardo? Of course. But why? You couldn't sell it.
SPIEGEL: What's your best work?
Beltracchi: They were all good, really. The big forest painting by Max Ernst, I thought that was really beautiful. And there was also a Campendonk, the one dedicated to (German writer) Else Lasker-Schüler, a painting that really existed but was lost. I found one of her prose pieces in her collected works published by Suhrkamp, volume 3.1, page 104, just two or three pages long. It's called "Künstler" ("Artist"), and I used it to obtain elements for the painting. I'd be interested to see what the real painting looked like.
SPIEGEL: There are art critics who declare your forgeries to be concept art, because you address the absurdities of the art market with them.
Helene Beltracchi: Damien Hirst says that the art market itself is art. He puts his serial images or his diamond skulls on the table, and he says: Folks, I'm going to play you for suckers now. And people play along.
SPIEGEL: The art market decides what is art and what isn't. Could there be a different way?
Beltracchi: No idea. You're always talking about morality.
Beltracchi: Then shouldn't you ask yourself how it is that Gerhard Richter publicly mocks the fact that a painting goes for 12 million? The market is willing to pay these prices. Only the person at the end of the chain foots the entire bill.
SPIEGEL: You made plenty of money in the process.
Beltracchi: Yes, and I can only say that I wouldn't be ashamed to sell my own art for a lot of money.
SPIEGEL: And would you pay a lot of money for a painting by an artist?
Beltracchi: The first question would be: Couldn't I paint it myself? Then I'd ask myself: Is there even a painting that I want? Every person has images in his head that are important to him. The birth of my daughter, for example, is one of those images for me, or the first time I saw my wife. You can't paint pictures of love. You can only imagine them. So I suppose I don't need a painting by another artist. I have enough of my own.
SPIEGEL: Are you painting now?
Beltracchi: Yes. And I'm signing my real name to the paintings.
SPIEGEL: What are you painting?
Beltracchi: Still classic modernism, but combined with my own portrait photos. I'm also in the process of completing two large works of my own, which I had started before the arrest, as well as a triptych sculpture. Most of all, I'm painting really big now. The pictures used to be on the small side, no more than 80 by 100 (centimeters), and I was always a little on the meticulous side. Painting a big picture is just more fun.
SPIEGEL: And are there people who want to buy it?
Beltracchi: Yes. They're the same people who normally buy expensive art. But I'm not all that crazy about painting just to pay off my debts. It's like contract work. And yet I have to do it.
SPIEGEL: Do you love art?
Beltracchi: I love my wife. I think art is beautiful.
SPIEGEL: Are you an artist?
Beltracchi: Of course.
SPIEGEL: What is an artist?
Beltracchi: Someone who makes art.
SPIEGEL: And when is something art?
Beltracchi: For the cynic, art is defined through money. That, of course, is a very sad statement. But an artist is someone who does creative things. Just read a book by Beuys. Then you'll have no idea what art is anymore.
SPIEGEL: Mr. and Mrs. Beltracchi, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Lothar Gorris and Sven Röbel. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
- Part 1: Confessions of a Genius Art Forger
- Part 2: 'I Worked as a Waiter in a Strip Bar'
- Part 3: 'I Painted Because I Wanted To'
- Part 4: 'No One Wants a Painting to Be a Forgery'
- Part 5: 'The Whole Thing Was Discovered Because of an Incorrectly Labeled Tube'
- Part 6: 'Nothing Is Easier Than a Pollock'