Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Brigído Lara, Obfuscator of Antiquity

When the radio alarm came on this morning, I heard something in the half-second or so before I smacked the clock radio into snooze oblivion that made me pause. One of my favorite words: fake.

It was NPR. The host was talking to a former curator from the Met. He had identified a pre-Colombian piece on display at the Met as a fake. In fact, he even suggested that he knew who the forger was: a certain Brigído Lara, who claims to have created 40,000 such pieces. The Met didn't believe it was a forgery, but the former curator suggested they check the piece for DNA, since apparently Brigído Lara adds his own urine to all his ceramic works. (Actually, he didn't say urine—he said "piss" on NPR, which amuses me more than it should.)

[Edit: The show was Studio 360, a show produced by WNYC that aired on NPR member station WHYY. It was not an NPR show. Also, the guest was Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Three pages of his book, False Impressions are devoted to Brigído Lara.]

I found a lengthy, although somewhat dry, article about Brigído Lara in an early issue of Cabinet Magazine: Brigido Lara, post-pre-Colombian ceramicist. (In spite of its pretentious tone, I recommend the article.)

Although Brigído Lara created forgeries of Aztec and Mayan pieces, apparently his specialty is Totonac forgeries (or, as he calls them, "original interpretations"), people that once inhabited the Veracruz peninsula. Lara's pieces are in museums all over the world, and he is so prolific that some say he has helped shape modern ideas of ancient Totonac art.

Although some of Lara's claims are outlandish: he claims to have created a piece previously on display at the Met that had formerly been a part of Nelson Rockefeller's personal collection. This claim is questionable, because Lara would have been about 8 years old when the piece was created.

Brigído Lara is hardly the only forger of Mexican antiquities. In colonial times, locals would make knock-offs to provide to the Spaniards in order to keep their authentic treasures safe. Later, starting in the late 1800s, forged antiquities became a cottage industry. But Lara certainly seems to be the most prolific and successful.

Once he was identified as a forger, albeit a forger of great talent and understanding of Totonac art, he was hired to restore ancient pieces and identify forgeries at a renowned Mexican museum. According to the bit I heard on NPR this morning, he was also commissioned to create works for the gift shop.

Imagine if he hadn't been caught in 1974! I think Brigído Lara is one of my new heroes.
Tags: brigido lara, cabinet magazine, fakes, forgeries

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