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Edgar Degas exhibit at the Tampa Museum called counterfeit

12:28 PM, Mar 11, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, FL - The Works of Edgar Degas is part of what the Tampa Museum calls the French geniuses bronze sculptures. They will be on display until June 19th but there is controversy surrounding the exhibit.

Jacksonville artist Gary Arseneau says, unfortunately, the Degas bronzes are not the reproduction of anything he did. Arseneau calls the Degas bronze collection one of the largest art frauds in the 20th and 21st century. Arseneau points out that Degas was dead when the works were made so he never saw the art on display in the museum today.

Photo Gallery: Fake Degas Exhibit

It all began two years after Degas died in 1917. His family had someone make a wax copy of sculptures that he had done of cloth paint brushes and other materials. Degas used those as models for his paintings. From the wax the family made after Degas died, a second generation of bronze forgery was created. From that bronze a 3rd generation of forgery bronze was made and Degas' signature was added.

Arseneau says what people are seeing is the interpretation of what Degas' work would look like if he were alive to cast it in bronze.

Todd Smith, the director of the Tampa Museum of Art, agrees that every sculpture that will be on display was created after Degas died. He says all the Degas bronzes that exist in the world were done posthumously.

While Smith admits what Arseneau says is true, he says it is still accepted in the art world. Smith says, like other museums, the Tampa Museum is presenting the bronzes as posthumous castings of the wax models that Degas created.

However, that is another wink and nod whopper told by the art community, because Degas didn't do wax castings. The only wax castings were done after he died by somebody else. Smith says the art world refers to what Degas did as wax. When we reminded him that Degas didn't do wax, he agreed it was a mixed media and says Degas used a lot of materials.

Another major problem is a code of ethics major museums, including the Tampa Museum subscribe, to. It says, "All bronze casting from finished bronze, all unauthorized enlargements and all transfers into new materials unless specifically condoned by the artist should be considered as inauthentic or counterfeit."

Smith says that was a way to protect living artists and wasn't meant to go back in time and chastise what happened in the past.

Arseneau says the idea the Tampa Museum would present work Degas didn't create, didn't approve and didn't sign because he was dead at the time is rank obscenity.

Smith contends anyone who walks into an exhibition of Degas bronzes, whether it is in Tampa or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, knows how the sculptures were done.

That's not what we found. When we told Kelly Nascarella basically what she was looking at was phony, she called it cheating. Nascarella's reaction is the same we got from everyone else we told about the exhibit, including some who were looking forward to going. Nascarella told us she was speechless and that it was more than surprising. She said it was unacceptable.

Arseneau says that is the same reaction he gets when he brings up the art world's little secret. He says people say, "You are telling me that these museums are participating in this fraud and he knows but they don't?" However, Arseneau says the answer is they do know, they just don't want the public to know.

Smith says the bronzes are still beautiful even if they were not created by Degas. He says they are works created by his heirs, by his agent, by a foundry after he died.

The Tampa Museum of Art still wants people to come see the works of a dead genius that he never created, that he never approved and never wanted to be displayed in bronze.

Mike Deeson, 10 News

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