…. the likes of Keating and Baltracchi tell us that to convince our audience that what we’re presenting is authentic, provenance or a back-story is the starting point.
Copying paintings taught me that there was no art without effort. Careful planning, attention to detail and rejection of the slipshod or inaccurate were the keys to, maybe, moderate success. The drama of a fire in a friend’s thatched house was made newsworthy by a quick-witted passer-by, seen running from the conflagration carrying aloft a (my) Cézanne – the start of a credible back-story? – I’m not sure the Hammershoi (the one I would have saved) was so lucky.
But for me, a great deal more interesting and entertaining is the art of the pastiche. The Hillman Special is just that; something which it’s not, though it fits neatly into the casual observer’s idea of things. Randy Regier, an American artist and one time curator of The Museum of the Other American Dream (MOAD) has refined this art form to a point where pastiche and reality are all but indistinguishable.
Regier’s 2007 MFA thesis looked at the way in which social history had been recorded since the Industrial Revolution with the unwitting assistance of the humble toy. He (and other commentators) had been astute in recognising that the development of Western social structures, complete with expectations and prejudices, had been paralleled in the evolution of children’s toys.
What Regier did then (and continues to do) was to embark on an exercise that playfully subverted our memories by presenting us with ‘phantom’ toys (of the period but eluding the memory) simultaneously drawing our attention to subtexts which we, as children, wouldn’t necessarily have noticed at the time, or even since.
Accompanied by convincing back-stories, almost impeccable provenance and faux period packaging to boot, of course, we think we can kind of remember if not the actual toy, then certainly the genre. This subversion (it’s carefully engineered to leave a convincing 1% of doubt) and our response to it, demonstrates to us that history is not unalterable and, more importantly, that the facts of history may not be the truth.
I first came across Regier’s work on a website that I recommend to everyone with an interest in cars, motorcycles, aircraft, boats and everything in between – silodrome.com. The site showcased this unusual pulse-jet propelled scooter produced in the cloak-and-dagger days of the Cold War. That this scooter, its supporting documentation, photographic evidence of a production run and its subsequent deployment in the field had been over-looked or, more persuasively, suppressed, ladled gravitas in buckets on Regier’s confection.
Pre-dating the current ‘barn find’ obsession, the central theme in Regier’s thesis was supported by the story of an almost complete 1920’s, home-built racing car hidden in the basement of an old bakery in Portland, Maine. Unusually, this car was built by a woman, Anna Isaak, whose story started in just post-revolution Russia. She emigrated to the USA, worked as a welder on the Liberty ship programme and died decades later, leaving behind only a suitcase containing a few clues to her racing ambitions and personal history. Regier’s carefully convoluted research culminates in the discovery and recovery of the car.
There’s a line in Frankenheimer’s ‘Ronin’, spoken by Robert De Niro: ‘If there’s doubt, there is no doubt’.
It’s worth remembering.