The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London is set to open a new exhibition that invites the public to question their understanding and appreciation of real and fake art.
The exhibition, Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project, opens on Feb 10 and replaces a priceless painting with a commissioned replica from China. Visitors and art experts are invited to try to spot the fake, which will be unveiled by the gallery after three months.
Fishbone, the artist behind the project, says the exhibition encourages the public to question what makes art valuable while alluding to the serious problem of counterfeits.
The replica was done by a studio in Xiamen, Fujian province, for 120 pounds ($182) after Fishbone sent over digital images of the painting.
"The quality of the replica is amazing in China, and plays a great role in helping more people enjoy great art. It is not counterfeiting as long as it is not set out to deceive," Fishbone says.
He says the replica market is legitimate and contributes greatly to helping art gain a wider public access. European artists, in fact, have a long tradition of making replicas, and many great masters of art have followed this tradition by making copies of their own works or asking their students to copy their works, Fishbone says.
Fishbone says the title of the exhibition is a play on the notion of Chinese manufacturing, which produces cheap goods but struggles to impress with their quality.
"In the West, there is a fear of Chinese-made products flooding our markets, and many people are afraid of the rise of China," Fishbone says. "This exhibition alludes to such an idea because a Chinese replica is being put in place of a masterpiece."
But the exhibition does not confirm the popular assumption that products made in China must be of poor quality, Fishbone says, adding that he is genuinely unsure whether viewers will be able to spot the replica, especially since it is placed in a museum setting.
The project took him a few years to complete, mostly because the trustees of the gallery, who are traditionally conservative, deliberated for a long time over the radical project, he says.
Dulwich, the world's oldest purpose-built public gallery, with works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Tiepolo, Murillo and Poussin, was established in 1817.
Fishbone first visited China in the 1980s, but did not travel to the country to commission the painting used for the exhibition. Instead, he says he took a risk by sending the digital image to the Xiamen studio and came away satisfied with the results.