Fake or Fortune? seeks out missing masterpieces of art using ‘cutting edge science and investigative research’ to distinguish the originals from the convincing fakes. As the title suggests, the programme focuses on the monetary value of art, with this value being a product of an original painting’s unique authenticity. Any discussion around the artist themselves, or the style of art is always a means to gather evidence to determine the authenticity of a piece, rather than to judge and appreciate its aesthetic value. In this regard, aesthetics take a backseat to monetary value and the art becomes an object that is defined through its authenticity.
Along with its Sunday evening 6pm slot on BBC 1, the familiar face of news presenter Fiona Bruce is an attempt to appeal to more mainstream audiences. The focus on monetary value, as opposed to aesthetic critique also goes some way to separate it from the niche category of other arts based programming, as viewers are able to understand and feel engaged with the series even if they do not possess a vast amount of knowledge around the works and artists being featured.
The form of the programme really sets it apart from the majority of traditional arts programming, and again, gears it more toward a mainstream audience. Both the stylistic themes and narratives throughout the series are reminiscent of a detective or crime drama. To begin, the overall concept lends itself to this genre with the mystery of “is it real, or fake?” thread throughout each programme.
To answer this question, clues and evidence are gathered to determine the painting’s authenticity. Fiona Bruce travels to various locations to talk to experts within the field who analyse the style of the painting, and others who examine legal documents and letters to track when and where the painting was sold. The painting is also analysed by a number of scientific methods, in which elements such as the paint can be traced back to the date it was used. Throughout the programme graphics are used illustrate this scientific analysis of paintings, reinforcing the idea of looking beyond the aesthetic qualities.
This physical ‘dissection’ of artwork is a stark contrast to the way we are accustomed to seeing great paintings hanging in a gallery, even if that gallery is on our television screens. The viewer is no longer experiencing the aesthetic effects one feels when viewing a painting, but is interpreting its physical properties.
The music used throughout the series is also evocative of the crime-drama genre. It comes in during key moments throughout the programme to build tension and create a sense of suspense.
Controversy arose when a Chagall painting the programme discovered to be fake was to be destroyed under French law. The destruction of ‘fake’ reproduced paintings protects the authenticity of the original while ensuring that any reproductions may not be sold under false pretence. The controversy surrounding whether the fake Chagall should be burned raises questions not just around issues of authenticity and ownership, but also reproduction.
The irony when watching Fake or Fortune? is that television itself is a form of reproduction. When exploring arts broadcasting it is interesting to consider if the cultural value that is embedded within a piece of original art changes, or even decreases, in a mediated world in which these images are freely transmitted. Great paintings are now available in millions of homes around the country, even if they are not hanging on the walls.