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Wine, Art, and Being Fooled

–co-authored with Evan Mitchell

Van Meegeren’s self-styled rival for the title of most successful art forger of all time was Englishman Eric Hebborn. As a writer, Hebborn is disarmingly hard to dislike. He was, in his autobiography Confessions of a Master Forger, scrupulously honest about his forgery connivences towards the life he felt he deserved but otherwise could not have afforded – including oceans of his favorite Chianti Classico. Hebborn was equally honest in his contempt towards the art establishment and the various institutions of the art industry – feeling that his forgeries, thousands of which he claimed to hang in esteemed collections all over the world were so regularly and easily snapped up because the players in that industry saw Old Masters only through the veil of money.

These art forgers and fraudsters, in their capacity to excite then exploit suggestibility, are counterparts to wine forger Rudy Kurniawan, whose crimes and comeuppance are explored in the doco Sour Grapes, and whose chutzpah included offering for sale more limited release magnum bottlings of Chateau LaFleur 1947 than had ever been produced.

What we are seeing perpetrated in all of this, is the same psychological gamesmanship.

The dynamic plays out endlessly, in analogous ways. Because, though as incidental to your life as wine and art might appear in the grand scheme of things, within our complex social rituals they operate as ciphers of relative worldliness and sophistication, of elegance and connoisseurship, badges of attractiveness – or painfully inflicted labels of cultural ineptness. (Yes illogically and unfairly, but that doesn’t alter the fact.)

Beneficently, often it’s the self-affirmed experts in these areas who are the easiest to dupe – so determined are they to dupe themselves. An illustration of this karma-laden phenomenon, from our upcoming novel, The Last Cave, in which the protagonist, a wine and art fraudster (and callous murderer when it suits) prepares to separately defraud two members of a dinner party, each an expert in their own mind, but with differing perceptions:

“… real artistry comes in engaging with two greedy targets at the same time – one on the grounds of claimed expertise and the other on the grounds of feigned ignorance. Alternating between the two, in a group, with just enough information to have each target receive the impression intended for them alone. The dupe assuming superior knowledge by the manipulator, will be amazed at the overly generous level of valuable details offered that he can now exploit; the one convinced of their own superior knowledge will be equally reassured by the specific details omitted, which they’re confident of being able to suss out.”

All this, as led by the nose they both are in a fascinating anecdote around the sale of a fake Chateau Margaux 1953.

All fun and games, with sufficient schadenfreude for you and us, and more to go around.

Consider, when perpetrated at the top end, both wine and art fraud are a close fit to the “perfect crime.” After all the most expensively priced imposters are unlikely ever to be uncorked. And how many collections of stolen masters will ever see the light of day? With no evidence of wrongdoing, the fraudsters are home free. You may decry this as a putrefaction of artistic and oenological integrity. But be careful what you wish for. It protects the offenders but also keeps hidden the foolishness of the victims – who might in another situation be any of us.

We are all vulnerable to circumstances in which our suggestibility will be tested and strained. Perceptions of authority can be irresistible. So too perceptions of scarcity (the Brooklyn Bridge wouldn’t be so easily sold if there were more of them). We are accustomed to sitting at the feet of experts. And we most seriously desire what we find most difficult to get. A double whammy waiting to play out.

The speciousness that pervades discussions of wine and art will always exist. It comes with the territory. So, let’s not be too precious. What goes around comes around. It’s all very human. Salute!


Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell write extensively on psychological themes, with scores of published articles on three continents. Evan has Honors degrees in Psychology and English Literature and extensive practical experience. Brian has a clinical Ph.D. and a significant period as a therapist.   They have two published books. The well-reviewed hardcover The Psychology of Wine: truth and beauty by the glass (www.psychologyofwine.com ) – Praeger US (and now in eBook edition) explored the aesthetics of wine and art and their psychological possibilities. This led to the storyline and structure of their upcoming literary thriller The Last Cave, an action narrative of suspense and surprise in the mode of Terry Hayes’ I am Pilgrim. Prior to writing full-time, the pair conducted a successful US consulting operation specializing in negotiation effectiveness. Subsequently extended to generational studies on decision-making tendencies by Gens Y and Z in the consumer world and politics.

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Brian Mitchell
Brian Mitchellhttp://www.howandy.net
Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell write extensively on psychological themes, with scores of published articles on three continents. Brian has a clinical Ph.D. and a significant period as a therapist. Evan has Honors degrees in Psychology and English Literature, and also extensive practical experience. They have two published books. The well-reviewed hardcover The Psychology of Wine: truth and beauty by the glass (www.psychologyofwine.com ) – Praeger US (and now in eBook edition) explored the aesthetics of wine and art and their psychological possibilities. This led to the storyline and structure of their upcoming literary thriller The Last Cave, an action narrative of suspense and surprise in the mode of Terry Hayes’ I am Pilgrim. Prior to writing full-time, the pair conducted a successful US consulting operation specializing in negotiation effectiveness. Subsequently extended to generational studies on decision making tendencies by Gens Y and Z in the consumer world and politics.They can be reached through [email protected]

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