“Verso”: a room full of fakes

On reading the pre-announcements and advertising blurb before this exhibition opened, I raised an eyebrow. Was the Mauritshuis Museum’s modern art exhibition “Verso” worth a visit? Would it fascinate friends?

With so many impressive exhibitions at important museums right now, it took some time to find a free slot in my diary. After visiting “Verso”, I advise you to skip it. Especially if your time in the Netherlands is limited and/or you’re not that into modern art.

It took me longer to get the audio working than “enjoy” this exhibition. I was not the only one. I mean the only one with a disobedient audio and cutting a visit short.

When I entered the exhibition proper, two ladies were already going round the room.
One unenthusiastically remarked to the other:  “Uhh – well … it is kind of interesting … I suppose?” In that kind of voice which implies something very definitely is totally not interesting.
The other one thought a while, eyed another exhibit, then answered: “Well … I suppose it is uhh – some kind of joke?”
They arrived after me and left before me.

On entering, first go into the left room. It has at least five screens playing the same videos. While keeping one eye on a screen, I spent some ten minutes getting the audio to cooperate. Not that I missed much. All the videos are interviews, lectures, films with and about the artist.

Vik Muniz tells about his first museum visit. Vik Muniz gives a lecture at the University of Michigan. Vik Muniz talks about preceding exhibitions. Vik Muniz talks about “Verso”. Vik Muniz … Vik Muniz … Vik Muniz.

You can discover what Vik Muniz’ “Verso” is all about, by looking at the table in this room. On this table, the whole process of “Verso” is explained. It shows how the artist and his assistants created the exhibits on show in the other room. Having a look at this table takes less than five minutes.

Verso GoldfinchAfter the “all-about-the-artist” videos started to cause nausea, I took a quick look at the table, then started on the exhibition. Here, you need to find the right back of a painting on your audio. Click it and the audio shows the front – so the painting – and one can also click for a short video with … more Vik Muniz.

In each short video, Vik Muniz gives you a one-direction-account of his experience, his idea, his explanation, his whatever blabla. These videos are short – but not short enough. Here the audio is of immense help: you can cut things short, skip, not select.

So there you are, in an exhibition full of faked backs of paintings: their “verso”. For this is what this exhibition is about: imitations of the backs of paintings. The twenty-something exhibits include the – dare one say forged – back of the “Mona Lisa”, imitation of the back of “The Goldfinch”, fake back of “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, etc.

Others who bothered or bother with the front of these famous masterpieces at least had or have talent. For talent is needed to create a good copy or forgery. What talents or skills do an artist and his assistants need to fake the back of a painting?

They even faked the labels and rubber stamps found on the “verso” of each masterpiece. For these backs were copied minutely.

Ever bought a painting at an auction? You may have found a label or stamp on the back of your work of art. Such labels and stamps are part of its provenance and help determine if it’s forged or stolen. Forging such stamps, labels, provenance is a crime. In this exhibition it’s considered art.

Worse: in the audio video  in which Vik Muniz explains his mind-blowing experience with the “GoldFinch”, he manages not to get the history of Fabritius right, nor the various interpretations of the painting, nor mention the name of the author and title of the novel.

I could not be bothered to see what he made of say Leonardo da Vinci and his “Mona Lisa”, Vermeer and his “Girl”, Rembrandt’s “Anatomy lesson” and other masters. Not that it mattered much; for this exhibition is all about Vik Muniz and his “masterpieces”.

The two ladies politely considered this exhibition a joke. I think it’s one gigantic, immense, over-the-top ego-trip. A friend of mine was even less charitable: “It’s one big con.”

Do you really want to waste precious time visiting a room full of faked backs of paintings? Especially, if like me, you’re on a short visit and time is limited? The Hague, Delft, Gouda, Rotterdam, Leiden, Utrecht, Haarlem, Amsterdam – practically any village, town, city in the Netherlands is crammed with museums, galleries, buildings and town centres worthier of your precious time.

The only excuse for wasting time on this exhibition is, when you’re visiting the museum’s important permanent collection with its van Dijks, Rubens, Rembrandts, Vermeers, and plenty other great masterpieces. In this case, your ticket gives you access to “Verso” too. So you might want to fritter away a few minutes looking at the imitations of the backs of a couple of masterpieces. Though honestly: if you’re left with a few minutes to spend, hadn’t you better have a coffee or tea at the museum’s restaurant, or visit the museum’s shop?

The Hague Mauritshuis Museum “Verso” can be skipped till the 4th of September 2016, after which a far more interesting exhibition will open.



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