If real-life Jane Does and Joe Schmoes have been known to discover valuable paintings at flea markets, why not Marge and Homer Simpson?
That was the premise of Sunday night’s episode of The Simpsons, in which the couple buys a painting from their neighbors’ yard sale only to discover that it’s by one Johan Oldenveldt, “prolific early-20th-century naturalist,” according to Lisa, who reads aloud the results of the fictional Oldenveldt’s Artipedia entry on her iPad. The whole family takes the work to an appraiser, who, naturally, boasts a distinguished yet indistinguishable accent and works at an auction house called Gavelby’s — tag line, “Buy art the impulsive, scary way.” He estimates the painting’s worth at $80–100,000, but before the auction can go through, someone else claims ownership. This leads Homer and Lisa on an authentication quest — “This is so exciting! My first time establishing provenance!” Lisa exclaims on the way —and from thence to the studio of a master art forger named Claus Sigler, who concludes the episode with this lesson: “Beauty is beauty. My forgeries give pleasure to people all over the world. The only real question to ask about art, whether it’s in the Louvre or on a freshman’s wall at Cal State Fullerton, is: did it move you?”
… Which is quickly followed by Homer asking, “What if I never liked the painting and only wanted it for money?” Sigler responds, and in doing so adds another lesson: “Then you I respect.”
The episode isn’t actually that LOL funny, but there are some great lines, including Marge’s comment, regarding a boat painting that used to hang above the couch, that “It felt comforting to know that while we watched TV, there was art going on behind us.” I also quite enjoyed Homer’s listing of the three things that make art valuable: “1. Nudity. 2. Holograms. 3. Something terrible happening to Jesus.” Has he been visiting the Springfield Art Fair?!
And more generally, it’s always amusing to see mainstream spoofs of the art world. This episode, titled “The War of Art” (also, coincidentally, the name of a self-help book), riffs on a host of recent art news stories, including various discoveries made on Antiques Roadshow; the 60 Minutes episode from last month on “the most successful art forger of our time,” Wolfgang Beltracchi, who’s clearly the model for Sigler; and, as David Ng points out at the LA Times, an ownership dispute over a small Renoir landscape. That work, stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951, turned up after a woman named Marcia “Martha” Fuqua claimed to have bought it for $7 at a flea market.