Andrew Shortland and Patrick Degryse | When Art Isn’t Real

1st March, 2022 in Author’s corner

“The ‘arms race’ between the forger and the scientist is quite interesting.”

The art world is a multi-billion-dollar industry which captures world headlines on a regular basis, for both good and bad reasons. When Art Isn’t Real deals with one of the most-discussed areas of controversy: high-profile objects that have experts arguing about their veracity. Some may have been looted, others may be fakes, some may be heavily restored or misattributed. Often, in these cases, analytical science is called on to settle a dispute. Authors Andrew Shortland and Patrick Degryse share some insights from behind the scenes and talk about what their project entails.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic? 
We’ve been working together for almost two decades on the scientific analysis of archaeological materials, and we’ve published in academic journals together frequently. This line of work, and our teaching, regularly brings us to museums worldwide. There, we are sometimes confronted with questions on the origin and technology of archaeological materials, or the nature and provenance of objects of art. Also, we have a joint interest in the stories behind these objects, specifically how they influence people’s lives and careers. As we’ve seen many examples of these interactions on our travels over the years, good and bad, we decided to try and tell that story in this book.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
There are reading suggestions per chapter, and a glossary, in the book.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
We both know the field and the case studies presented very well, and we were travelling together most of the time when we saw the objects of art presented. In that respect the book is somewhat of a joint travel account, in person and in science. We’ve studied or even witnessed much of the happenings in this volume together. We therefore wrote the chapters in a back-and-forth way, supplementing each other’s paragraphs and sentences. It was remarkable how also coincidence played a part in our study and travel for the book – people that coincidentally know each other, accidentally running into objects presented in other chapters while we had no intention to see them… Almost like all of it was securely planned, while it was not… Perhaps some would call it a conspiracy?

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
How these objects and their stories affect people. Also, the “arms race” between the forger and the scientist is quite interesting. Perhaps more notably, it is important to understand how uncertainty is still a factor in many cases, and that the best way to work on objects of art is a three legged stool of art historians, scientists, connoisseurs – the only way is to work together, science cannot solve everything.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about? 
We still have many war stories on this subject, but perhaps we can also do a next Porterhouse Blue…