ASU Art Museum exhibit centered on painting's authenticity, and the culture that surrounds it
The first thing that caught the attention of Nathan Newman was the texture of the paint.
It just didn’t seem to match the mixtures used by artists during the early 1900s, when artist Frederic Remington painted “The Pioneer and the Indian,” depicting a frontiersman and Native American cautiously crossing paths.
There was also suspicion from art scholars and Remington experts questioning the authenticity of the painting at the ASU Art Museum. So Newman had to test it, and found the smoking gun.
“Titanium white paint was commonly used after 1919, and ‘The Pioneer and the Indian’ was painted after Remington’s death in 1909. This painting is an almost exact copy of [Remington’s] ‘The Parley’ whose unquestionable provenance dates securely back to its sale from Remington himself,” said Newman, a professor in ASU’s School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.
“After testing, using scientific techniques, the conclusion is fairly clear — it’s a fake.”
That painting, pictured above, is the centerpiece of a new exhibition called “Superflex: Superfake/The Parley” hosted by Arizona State University’s Art Museum in Tempe.
Taking the form of an experimental laboratory, the exhibition features new images, video and sculptural works by the Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX, which was founded in 1993 by Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen and Bjorn Christiansen.
“A lot of Swedes moved to the United States in the late 1800s, and so we have our own reference on how the Old West was represented,” said Christiansen, who flew in from Copenhagen, Denmark, for the preparation and opening of the exhibition on Jan. 9. “We don’t necessarily want to go into the history of this artist, but are very interested in the social impact Remington had as a storyteller and artist within the American genre.”
The commissioned project, presented in collaboration with professors Newman and Terry Alford in the Fulton School of Engineering and ASU’s LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science, takes the painting from the ASU Art Museum’s founding Oliver B. James collection, which was attributed to Remington, a famous American Western painter, illustrator, sculptor and writer. It is used as a starting point to examine issues of authenticity, reproduction and value systems — including the emotional value of an artwork.