One of the cool things about living in Delaware County is being sandwiched between Philly and Wilmington, leaving easy and convenient access to the best concerts, theater shows, entertainment and museums.
Whenever a new exhibit arrives at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art or any of the other nearby great museums, they’re usually a unique and educational experience, so they, almost instantly, get everyone buzzing about them, prompting many people to make the effort to go see the new exhibits themselves.
I remember last year when the “Downton Abbey” exhibit was at Winterthur in Delaware. I seriously felt like I was the only one in town who didn’t get to see it because no matter where I went, people were talking about it.
Luckily, I did get to recently catch “The Art of the Brick,” “Vatican Splendors,” “Body Worlds” and “King Tut” when they were at the Franklin Institute; “The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” currently at the National Constitution Center; the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and “Tiffany: The Color of Luxury” at Winterthur a year or so ago. I often think back on those special exhibits and others that I saw through the years, remembering what I saw and what I learned. In just two more weeks, we will all have the opportunity to check out the brand new Museum of The American Revolution, and I am super excited about that newcomer to the scene!
Therefore, when an opportunity came up last week to visit Winterthur’s newest exhibit, “Treasures On Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes,” I put on my fanciest detective hat and off I went! I am not sure if the exhibit’s opening on April Fool’s Day was just an ironic twist of coincidence or if the museum’s administration realized it was a perfect day to highlight how fakes not only usually fool the average person, but they often fool the serious collectors as well.
Before I get to the crux about the exhibit, let me fill you in about Winterthur, especially if you never made the short trip. Winterthur is one of America’s most renowned mansions, originally owned by Evelina DuPont, daughter of DuPont company founder E.I DuPont, and her husband, Jacques Antoine Bidermann. E.I’s great-grandson Henry Francis DuPont, collector and horticulturist, transformed the property into the world’s premier museum of 17th through 19th century American antiques and decorative arts. Today, the museum, which was opened in 1951, contains over 90,000 acquisitions, everything from silver drinking vessels made by Paul Revere to furniture and heirlooms, plus a magnificent garden of native and exotic plants.
The new “Treasures on Trial” exhibit, which runs from now until Jan. 7, 2018, offers visitors a Sherlock Holmes-style investigation of some of the most notorious fakes and forgeries of our time. Revealing new insights from conservation science, “Treasures on Trial” includes 40 examples of fakes and forgeries associated with masters such as Henry Matisse, Coco Chanel, Paul Revere, Antonio Stradivari, Louis Comfort Tiffany and others, drawn from the Winterthur Collection and public and private sources.
“Treasures on Trial” presents a broad range of works that provide a surprising view of the scope and sophistication of the counterfeiting market, from fine art to sports memorabilia, couture clothing, wine, antique furniture and more. Some of the items on display, most side-by-side with their fake replicas, are a wool Chanel suit; photo and baseball memorabilia purported to have been autographed by sports legends Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth; an 18th century violin with fake Stradivarius labeling; a bogus 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafitte purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson; a watercolor purported to have been painted by Andrew Wyeth, which has been circulating around the art market for years; silver said to be made by Myers Myers, the first Jewish silversmith in America; and examples of work by Mark Landis, whose career creating fake works of art and donating them to many museums was featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary “Art and Craft” (try to catch it on Netflix before you visit exhibit).
One of the nicest parts of this exhibit, is that it includes such a wide variety of artifacts, so the display is bound to interest all kinds of people. With such a diverse exhibit, I can see musicians interested in the counterfeit instruments, wine connoisseurs brought in by the wine counterfeiting displays, artists and art collectors intrigued with the art replicas and sports fans drawn to the gloves, bats and other sports apparatus on exhibit.
As a female shopper who has visited Canal Street up in New York to peruse the knockoffs once or twice (or three times or four) in my lifetime, I was especially interested in the fashion and accessory fakes. I was intrigued to see the fake replicas of the Hermes Birkin bags. First off, I was in utter amazement to see a real Birkin Bag, up close and in person, having only read about them in the past or saw them on “Sex and the City” episodes. The genuine Birkin on display was worth $13,000, along with two knockoffs, with one being made out of ostrich. Unlike the fake Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Juicy Couture and other counterfeit designer bags sold on Canal Street and at other shady locations that have obvious different qualities than the real deal, there was absolutely no way that an average person like me could detect real from fake in those expensive Birkin bags. The two Chanel suits, one real and one fake, next to the bags weren’t all that much easier to guess real vs. fake. When I guessed the correct answer, it was sincerely an Eeeny Meeeny Miney Moe lucky guess because they both looked identical to my inexperienced eye.
Some of the fakes and forgeries are exhibited alongside authentic objects and are accompanied by new and rarely seen scientific insights from Winterthur’s own Scientific Research and Analysis Lab. Winterthur’s conservators and scientists are leaders in the field of scientific analysis of fine art and antiques, with a curatorial team renowned for their expert knowledge and historical detective work. The exhibition shows how a combination of provenance, research, connoisseurship skills and scientific analysis are used to expose a broad range of fakes and forgeries that have fooled collectors and experts alike and reveals fascinating stories about the forgers themselves.
The exhibit, which shows the connection between art and science, is designed to both inform and entertain visitors and even provides them with the opportunity to judge for themselves whether some objects are fake or genuine. “Treasures on Trial” features four sections: Intent, Evidence, Proof and You Be the Judge. It features film and video clips plus interactive opportunities.
Now, the big question: was the exhibit at Winterthur really good and worthwhile to see or am I faking you out in the spirit of April Fool’s Day? April Fool’s Day is over and done, but my advice is that you are just going to have to check this fabulous exhibit out for yourself. You may even want to wait a few weeks until the spring flowers are in full bloom. There’s a narrated tram car that takes you around the magnificent grounds and gardens of Winterthur. If you’ve never been to Winterthur, the “Treasures on Trial” exhibit is a new excuse to finally plan a visit. Winterthur is actually known worldwide for its preeminent collection of American decorative arts, naturalistic gardens and research library for the study of American art and material culture. It was recently listed in Patricia Schultz’s widely read “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”
Tours are offered to the most notable spaces in the 175-room period house, as well as the garden and galleries, special exhibits, Enchanted Woods children’s garden and the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens. Activities are offered throughout each month and include special lectures and the annual Yuletide at Winterthur from Nov-Jan.
Winterthur is off Route 52, just six miles northwest of Wilmington and a very short drive over the Pennsylvania border, too close in my book not to pay it periodic visits!
For more information, visit winterthur.org or call 800-448-3883 or 302-888-2133.