Mona Lisa in a weekend
September 19, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Mark Landis is an art forger who seems to be driven not by money, but by the desire to be a philanthropist.

He's the subject of of a documentary film debuting in 2014. He also just did a a Reddit AMA about himself.

Despite being very prolific, his work does not tend to stand up to scrutiny very long, but since he gives his work to museums without being concerned about tax breaks, special recognition, or money (and also because he occasionally passed himself off as a priest, making him seem more trustworthy), many works were accepted by museums who took him and the gift at face value. Many art collectors are eccentrics: Landis did not stand out as particularly unusual at first.

A quiet man diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late teens, Landis is uncertain about why his career as a forger upsets people. His intent seems to be largely about the act of giving and also about honoring his parents. However, his actions led to a great deal of disruption and confusion, and Matthew Leininger, a museum registrar has dedicated himself to uncovering Landis' forged works, possibly to the point where it affected his own employment - he no longer works in the museum field.

Landis dismisses the work he copies, comparing the originals that he knocked off to the work of children. His method of aging art is coffee staining, and he doesn't seem to care about using similar materials to the original artist - colored pencils can stand in for chalk, and brushstrokes and "all that scientific stuff" is not worth troubling with. He talks about his process as an assembly line:

You get these boards at Home Depot, and you do the sky first because that’s the furthest thing back, and then you go forward. You can churn out three by the time a movie’s over on TCM.”

However, due to age and notoriety, Landis' career seems to be at an end.
posted by PussKillian (18 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I'm looking forward to seeing Art and Craft next month at the Milwaukee Film Festival. It sounded really interesting, so I'm glad to have some background reading about Landis. Thanks!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:05 PM on September 19, 2014

“I gave a picture to a museum in the memory of my father which I hoped would please Mother. Everyone was so nice that I was soon to get into the habit of donating pictures to museums. Being treated so nicely by people was something I was unfamiliar with and I liked it very much.”
—Mark Landis 2013

Kind of heartbreaking, and also fascinating.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:13 PM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

In 2009, Landis donated three pieces to the museum where I work, under his alias Steven Gardiner. He had done some homework - all three pieces were Andrew Jackson memorabilia which he was aware we actively collect and would be interested in acquiring. It was clear from the beginning that they were fake. The techniques were just as he describes in the first article: for example, one was an ink jet print on tea-stained card with some watercolor additions, purporting to be an 1833 commemorative silk ribbon adhered to card. You didn't even need a loupe to see it wasn't silk. But the thing was, he was such an odd bird (obviously we didn't know about his mental illness at the time - this was before any ) that we were eager for him to leave the premises with as little fuss as possible. We thanked him very much for his donation, and are now the proud owners of three originals by Mark Landis!
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:42 PM on September 19, 2014 [25 favorites]

So, he's a 21st-century Billy & Charlie? Cool beans. Except for the mental illness part....
posted by IAmBroom at 12:52 PM on September 19, 2014

Studio 360 interviewed him a few weeks ago, well worth a listen if you are interested.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oops, didn't finish my thought there - this was before any articles were published on him as far as I know. The first article I ever saw was in the Financial Times in January 2011.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:59 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's as though his own life/acts were the works of art themselves. Those who get offended about it are missing the bigger picture. If he charged money I would certainly be more upset. I think I'd be a bit flustered if he had ended up giving them to me under the pretense he does, at the same time...

It's just that I can't help but see this as a form of art. It's not the products he makes, but the acts and social circumstances. In that sense, it's a performance. The act of the fraud/charade he perpetrates is the "real" art. The gifts are reminders, the same way one would listen to an audio recording or look at a photograph to remember the places and events they've experienced.
posted by symbioid at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wrote an Art History paper on Mark Landis. He is a fascinating forger but ultimately I found the curators who were duped by him even more interesting. This guy in a priest outfit, driving a big red caddy shows up at a small museum with something that looks like something they really, really want. He gets small gifts and lots of attention for a short period of time and then drives off. The curators then start really looking at what they have and see the obvious forgery and its oh fuck we're idiots. The curators want that special something so, so bad.
posted by cairnoflore at 1:26 PM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh man, this is fascinating. I'm a big fan of fakes and forgeries (my art's primarily photography, which as all sorts of fraught relationships with authenticity), and would love to see some of these. Hell, if I had the space, I'd start a Landis Museum.
posted by klangklangston at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2014

I assume as he gains notoriety his works will be worth more and more.

Which will inevitably lead to forgeries (that may be hard to detect as his construction methods seem to be relatively crude). Indeed I can imagine forgers being drawn to him and his work.

Good stuff.
posted by el io at 1:43 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The preview of the documentary has a heart rending scene where Matthew Leininger is asking his daughter, "Who is this?" and she's all, "Mark Landis." "Who is this?" "Mark Landis." "Who is this?"

The girl is like four.

I love obsessions, but when you pass them onto your children you've lost the plot.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2014

I met him briefly a few years back. Strange doesn't begin to describe him. It's one of very few times in my life I've actually experienced a reality distortion field. Even when you know he's a forger, and the work he's handing you is a forgery, he's so wrapped up in his character that I couldn't help but play along. Not in the sense of pretending along with a child who think's she's a princess, but more in the Jack Nicholson sense of being right there in the moment and doing the same in the next one and the next and so on.

He was a priest the day I met him, and at the end of our meeting, he offered to give me a blessing, so I let him. Seemed fitting.

Oddly enough, my boss seemed convinced the works were real even after I very carefully showed why that wasn't so. Maybe his blessing opened my eyes more than hers.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

If Landis could walk in to William Gaddis' The Recognitions he'd feel right at home.

“Everybody has that feeling when they look at a work of art and it's right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of...recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it or listen to it...”
posted by chavenet at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2014

And now I see you can commission a Mark Landis "original" and I know what I want for Christmas!
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:12 PM on September 19, 2014

That slider dingus on the NYT site is awesome. It's really interesting to me that he seems to copy the lines almost perfectly, but the copies lack the "warmth" of the originals.

And Tom Noonan should play him in a made-for-cable movie.
posted by valkane at 3:33 PM on September 19, 2014

jonathan gash's "lovejoy" books were a favorite of my late mom, she was an antiques divvy too. lovejoy would forge one antique per book to keep himself in scratch.
posted by bruce at 5:21 PM on September 19, 2014

I love this guy. It's time for someone to curate an exhibit just of Landises.
posted by umbú at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2014

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