8 May — 23 October, 2015
art room9, Munich, Germany
"He is truly a man of genius talent and intelligence. Anyone who observes Beltracchi up close at work, with all the dedication and keen attention, all the ideas and love for the smallest details, not to mention his incredible skill, eventually wonders: If this man is not a true artist, then who on earth should be considered a true artist?!"
—Daniel Kehlmann, author in the FAZ
Wolfgang Beltracchi gained fame as a forger of the century. For decades, he created unrecognized paintings in the style of various great painters, especially those of Classical Modernism. He never copied their works; instead, Beltracchi had the ability to go beyond existing works and create new ones, often considered by connoisseurs to be among the best of the respective masters. Many experts claimed that he painted the most beautiful Molzahn, the most exciting Campendonk, and the most mysterious forest by Max Ernst. They confirmed that Beltracchi had touched upon a moment in the artist's creation that the art world now views as the most genius. His paintings were certified as authentic by widely recognized art experts and fetched top prices in galleries and major international auctions.
The title "FREIHEIT" (freedom) refers to Wolfgang Beltracchi's current life situation, during which his new paintings were created. In January 2015, Beltracchi was released from prison after serving four years. The reason for his imprisonment was signing famous artists' names on his works. His past actions are now part of history. In a legal state, those who have served their imposed sentences have the right to start anew, and in Beltracchi's case, to work artistically with complete freedom.
Beltracchi's work has reignited the discussion about the value of art and what constitutes art. It prompted literature critic and author Burkhard Müller to make an interesting comparison: "In the wine cellar of art enjoyment, Beltracchi has, in a way, removed the labels from the bottles and now compels everyone considered a connoisseur to blind tasting, that process where judgment must prove itself immediately and unadulterated: in his taste judgments, no one can rely on the tag that indicates the origin of the fine wine; instead, everyone must state how it actually tastes to them. Beltracchi urges art enthusiasts to switch from the mode of worship to that of observation and experience."
All of Beltracchi's works are based on his deep knowledge of the artists he engages with. By exploring their art and lives in connection with their contemporaries, he internalizes their creations, delving into their artistic intellect. In immersing himself in others, he senses and feels images. With his special talent and the vast range of his technical skills, there are no limits to the virtuosity in reproducing these more sensed images. Sometimes, he chooses the handwriting and narrative language of the researched artist, while at other times, new connections, unforeseen links, and extensions to the work of previous or subsequent artists emerge. The resulting paintings demonstrate a multilingualism rarely found in a contemporary artist. They are new, independent works that offer the viewer a different perspective on visual art—providing the opportunity to venture into the possibilities presented by engagement with the arts.
For Beltracchi, FREIHEIT also means that as an artist, he is now free from the former constraints of having to adhere with absolute precision to the styles of the great painters of Classical Modernism. Beltracchi understands how to let the many different handwriting styles and techniques of the great artists flow together with his creativity and unique painting skills, thereby creating entirely new works in complete freedom. In doing so, he has created his own genre.
Curtis Briggs, May 2015