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In an experiment to slow visitors down, British museums are hanging fake art alongside their masterpieces

Sky Arts
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The average museum goer spends less than 30 seconds in front of a work of art. Researchers even found that most of that time is spent skimming the wall text instead of looking at the actual piece.

A new British TV show called Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge  seeks to allay that attention deficit by planting seven fake paintings in galleries throughout the UK and rewarding keen-eyed museum visitors who correctly identify them.

“You don’t have to be an art historian to have a go at this,” says Phil Edgar-Jones, director of the show’s producer Sky Arts, to introduce the nationwide open competition. “All you need is a sense of curiosity and an eye for detail,” he said in the press statement. The show hopes to inject a sense of fun in the usual dry, academic tone of art-focused television programs about centuries-old British paintings. Edgar-Jones adds that the contest also hopes to encourage visitors to take a “closer and more critical look at the works of great British artists.”

Starting today (July 2) six museum are participating in the month-long “heist” including the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, National Museum Cardiff, Guildhall Art Gallery in London, Manchester Art Gallery, the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, Wirral, and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Sky Arts

“We want to challenge our gallery visitors to come and look closely—to really examine the finest details in some of our masterpiece paintings, to look at the brushstrokes, the texture and color,” says Beth McIntyre, senior curator at the National Museum Wales, explaining why the museum decided to participate in the show. The 104 year-old-museum in Cardiff houses one of Europe’s best collections of impressionist paintings including several evocative landscape paintings by renowned British painter JMW Turner.

Michael Gormley of the National Galleries of Scotland tells Quartz that they hope that the television exposure will also encourage new visitors to discover their vast collection of historical portraits. “It’s a simple, but rather clever way to engage people. Of course you’re going to look hard at the paintings when you know one of them is not what it seems,” he says. “We hope it will bring in some people that might not of been in the Gallery before.”

The concept of Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge resembles a fascinating experiment at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London last year where they hung a forged painting with their collection of Old Masters to showcase the mastery of Chinese art copiers working in Dafen Village, the world’s biggest art factory.

Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge is a kind of “slow art” intervention, a growing art appreciation movement that encourages visitors to spend more time to experience a work of art instead of the usual drive-by, Instagram-snap-and-share mode of museum visits we know today.

Gareth Jones

The fake paintings will hang in British galleries from July 2–August 1. Museum goers who report the fakes they spot will be entered in the contest for Britain’s top fake art spotter. Ten finalists will be featured in the show’s finale and the winner will take home a commissioned copy of a British masterpiece valued up to £5,000.

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