Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Master at Painting Master Works Chang Dai-Chien First Drew Attention to Himself by Doing Forgeries in the Old Chinese Style

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Master at Painting Master Works Chang Dai-Chien First Drew Attention to Himself by Doing Forgeries in the Old Chinese Style

Article excerpt

IF imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Chang Dai-chien admired the ancient Chinese master painters on the highest level. In his more than 60-year career, Chang created nearly 30,000 works of art, and considered among his best were his outright forgeries of great Chinese masters.

Examples of Chang's work, including a number of his copies and forgeries of master works are now on display at the Asia Society in New York. It is the first major retrospective of his work since his death in 1983.

But it seems that the gallery's emphasis on Chang as a forger has not pleased some viewers.

"We've had a number of complaints from members of the Chinese and Chinese-American communities about playing up the forgery aspect of Chang's work," a spokeswoman for the Asia Society says. "It's been quite unusual. I don't remember the last time a show created this much controversy."

As one of the last "literati" painters, Chang was concerned with the studies of poetry and calligraphy, as well as painting. And he indulged in the time-honored tradition of copying the works of old Chinese masters as a way of improving his own work.

But Chang took this practice farther than any other artist of his caliber.

Not only was he able to copy the styles of old masters with incredible skill, he was able to create whole new compositions in a certain master's style, sign the work with that master's seal and signature, and then watch as art collectors of the day snapped them up as originals.

It all started as a ploy for attention, according to Shen C.Y. Fu, senior curator of Chinese art for the Arthur Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, who arranged this show. As a talented young artist in China, Chang was frustrated by the Chinese tradition that favors age and experience over youth. He wasn't getting the attention he thought he deserved in his 20s, so he created a forgery: He did a hanging scroll in the style of the 17th-century artist Shitao and called it "Through Ancient Eyes."

It wasn't long before the piece caught the eye of one particularly arrogant art collector, who proclaimed it one of the finest works by Shitao he'd ever seen and promptly laid down his money. Chang didn't tell him the truth right away, but when he revealed the true nature of the painting, the collector, considerably deflated, didn't stay angry for long. …

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