[Outlook]Art fraud is in a league of its own

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[Outlook]Art fraud is in a league of its own

Many events and exhibitions to commemorate the first anniversary of late Korean artist Paik Nam-june’s death are being held or are planned for the future.
In the ARCO Art Fair, Madrid, Spain, a special exhibition to remember Mr. Paik was held as a special event for Korea, which was a guest country of honor.
That show was planned and produced at the request of Spain, the host country.
Eighty six art works were on display in the Telefonica building, a famous landmark in Madrid. The building is where Spanish civilians fought fiercely against the rebel army of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
Koreans feel proud to imagine that a banner bearing the name of the Korean artist is flying in the country of Pablo Picasso. They also feel proud that artists from around the world paid homage to the Korean artist’s works.
The Korean artist once said, “Art is just humbug.” These words convey the artist’s agony and conflict, as he was a man ahead of his time.
His humbug was the impetus for experimentation and creation. At last, he found a new type of art, video art.
If his work was humbug, it was top-class humbug because it fooled the entire world.
Lee Jung-seop, an ill fatedKorean painter, also called himself a swindler. When he sold his paintings at an exhibition, he was delighted, saying, “I fooled them!”
When he was dying, he lamented, “I fooled the world while I claim to be a painter. I got food for doing nothing. I fooled people saying I would become someone in the future.”
His words are the lamentation of a genius who lived in the wrong time. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Mr. Lee’s death. But because of a scandal involving a copy of his original painting, there were hardly any decent shows to collect and show his paintings.
These days, we rather miss Mr. Paik’s first rate humbug or Mr. Lee’s romantic swindling because low-class, crude deception is abundant.
So-called intellectuals turn out to have plagiarised when writing books or papers.
Some authors turned out to be promotional fronts for books written by someone else.
They insist that such acts are or used to be common practice. Even a fake version of a painting by the famous artist was circulated.
Fraud means to fool others in order to fill one’s own selfish interests.
From an economic perspective, fraud in the art business is to supply art products lacking originality or authenticity and thus mislead naive and ignorant consumers in a bid to gain selfish interests, such as fame. In the end, fraudulent acts create distrust in society.
As art products are different from ordinary items sold in conventional markets, fraud causes significant damage. Ordinary goods and services give satisfaction to consumers and get consumed.
However, goods in the culture and art fields are not consumed or diminished by a person’s purchase. One person’s purchase does not block another’s consumption. There is no struggle or competition for consumption.
The act of consumption of cultural and art works is not the conventional act of consumption. Rather it is enjoying the products, so art works are something like public goods.
Thus, a person who fools others with works that he or she claims are cultural or art products is the enemy of the entire public.
Adam Smith, an economist who established the foundation of capitalism, said selfishness was a drive that moves the world. He said that we eat not because of the philanthropy of butchers, brewers and bakers, but because of their interest in making money.
He promoted free economy where greed and competition to achieve material profits and wealth reign. He maintained that public interests are more effectively increased when the invisible hand is at work than when capitalists make efforts.
The selfishness that Mr. Smith mentioned is different from immorality. It was about being sensible and prudent to fill one’s needs and not to do harm to society at the same time. It is a type of self-love.
The economist added that a society is like a mammoth machine: Morality is a lubricant, an indispensible factor to help its wheels roll smoothly, and immorality is rust that makes wheels squeak from time to time.
Fraud in the culture and art fields ruins the culprit himself and damages the culture and art markets. If a market is ruined due to distrust caused by such immoral acts, there is no place for culture and art to stand.
The invisible hand imposes heavy punishment without failure.

*The writer is the head of K Action. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Soon-eung
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