The Independent tells the story of a fraud investigation that uncovered a philosophical problem:
César Baldaccini, who died in 1998, was celebrated above all for his “compressions” – sculptures made by squashing cars or fridges or other consumer goods into dense metallic squares or oblongs. To the inexpert eye, there was little difference between a César sculpture and a block of compressed metal churned out by a scrapyard. There was equally little difference, it turns out, to the expert eye.
Eric “le Tiec” Piedoie, 55, and his brother, Franck, 52, are accused of making 130 “César” sculptures – mostly metallic “compressions” – and selling them to art galleries at up to €7,600 (£6,942) a piece. Before a TV camera in 2003, Eric Piedoie boasted that he had made at least 1,500 Césars in his garage in Grasse. He gave a brief demonstration, using a child’s pedal car and a hydraulic press to turn out a new “César” in a few minutes.
During this week’s trial, the Piedoie brothers and four alleged accomplices will argue that they made the Césars in good faith as “imitations” or “representations”, rather than fakes. Two well-known art dealers, Guy Pieters and Laurent Strouk, stand accused of selling the sculptures as real Césars for up to €45,000 each. They will insist that they were duped by fake César signatures applied to the works by the Piedoie brothers and by certificates of authenticity supplied by art experts and by César Baldiccini’s last girlfriend, Stéphanie Busuttil. […]
Among the experts who signed certificates of authenticity, in good faith according to the prosecution, was Denyse Durand-Ruel, the woman who edited the definitive catalogue of César’s work.
As a result of the scandal, the market for real Césars collapsed for several years and has not yet fully recovered. […]
The lengthy investigation of the fake Césars began by accident in 2001. Police in the south of France searching for stolen art works, including a Chagall and a Magritte, bugged several suspects in a world of high-living, cocaine-taking art lovers and dealers. They stumbled on evidence that Eric Piedoie was flooding the Côte d’Azur with fake Césars.
The appearance of so many unknown works enflamed feelings within César’s family and entourage. The artist’s wife Rosine Baldaccini and daughter Anna Puységur Baldaccini were disputing his inheritance with his mistress Stéphanie Busuttil. Each side accused the other of selling off works before the dispute was settled in court.
Mme Busuttil was allegedly approached by the Piedoie brothers to sign certificates of authentification for some of their works. She says she did so in good faith: a claim accepted by the prosecution.
In other words, both César’s own mistress and the art critic who catalogued his work could not tell authentic “compression” sculptures from fake ones knocked off in a garage. Awkward questions therefore arise. Were César’s “compression sculptures” really art? Are the Piedoie brothers con-artists or true, accidental artists themselves?
On Trial: The Question of What Is Modern Art? (The Independent)