The beauty of Elmyr de Hory’s work, and subsequently F For Fake, is that it exposes the illusions of markets while elevating his forgary from crime to artistic statement.
The film is disorienting. Wells’ trickery pushes against the format of film and washes over you in interesting ways. At one point I suddenly noticed a monkey hanging on Clifford Irving’s shoulder, leaving me delightfully wondering – “what the fuck?” Wells once said, “everything in that film was a trick.” But the constant sound and visual distractions overwhelm and the experience is often unpleasant. The extended trailer for the film is a more playful take on the trickery, and at nine minutes it seems more digestible than the hour and a half of extreme illusions presented.
Wells’ final story within the film posits that a forger may want to subsume the artist’s they replicate, gaining their own immortality through the legacy of another artist. The copies may look the same as the originals they replicate, but the objects themselves are still unique. Does that mean the forgerers have contributed something new? In telling this story of Elmyr and Irving, F For Fake gives the fakes their own importance. And though not his original intention, Elmyr’s work inadvertently shakes the foundations of the art world, creating a new artistic statement.
F For Fake is a provoking meditation on how we value art and therefore the nature of value itself. Art is a strange asset; it does not generate money on its own and it isn’t very useful. You can’t eat it if you are hungry, but maybe you can burn it for heat. A group of people have decided that there are important artists and periods, there’s a dominant narrative praising their importance. An object that’s a part of that narrative inherits that value. It’s price tag isn’t from the joy of viewing it, it’s from market speculation. If an original turns out to be a fake, it’s worth disappears instantly and it falls into nothingness.
The art market is a collective hallucination, delicately constructed, and viable to collapse.