Boundaries Of Reproduction

Entry by: Octopoda

8th December 2017
Boundaries of Reproduction

He sat across from her on the low Eames sofa, legs stretched out in front of him in baggy grey jogging bottoms. He can’t have been more that twenty-eight years old, it never ceased to amaze her, the age of the gallery’s clients. “I like it,” he said in response to her in depth presentation of the provenance and significance of the Warhol painting in front of them, a rare piece from the artist’s later monochrome series. She gave him time to elaborate.
“Who else did you say was interested?” he questioned attempting to hide his curiosity with a rehearsed nonchalance. He ran his fingers through his unkempt hair. She gave the name of several high net worth clients that had been listed in ArtForum’s yearly ranking of high profile collectors.
“Ok,” he said, “lets do it.”
She nodded, “I’ll just get one of the assistants to draw up the paperwork.”

As she stepped into the back office she silently punched the air. Taking deep breaths, she sat down at her desk. She’d done it. She composed herself and drew up the paperwork, smoothly gliding her fingers across the keys. She had been courting this client for a little over six months after reading about his new position in one of the broadsheets rich lists. He was a technology prodigy, but he was a novice when it came to contemporary art. When she first met him at the Frieze art fair, she overheard a conversation he was having with his art consultant, a man who could at best be described as a chancer, and at worst a charlatan.
They had stood in front of a mediocre lithograph, “I’m not sure James,” he’d said to his so-called adviser, “I just don’t know if I get it.” It was then that she saw her opportunity.

Later at the art fair’s champagne bar she literally bumped into him, spilling her drink down his logo sweatshirt. After his initial annoyance, she managed to tease out a little conversation and boasted about her (fictional) purchases at the fair. She brazenly asked him if he had bought anything, and if he’d heard the recent auction results that promised great rewards for daring collectors willing to enter the market at the right time for the right artist. “Hmmm” he’d said noncommittally, but after some very one-sided conversation, she somehow managed to set up a meeting at the gallery without the bumbling art consultant tagging along.
“You’ve got to listen to your inner voice when it comes to art, to your tastes, you can’t get advice on that,” she’d said, looking directly at him, “besides,” she said in a conspiratorial tone, “half of this stuff is like the emperor’s new clothes, so many people are just pretending to get it.”

That night when she got back to her tiny house share in New Cross, she hung her simple black Miu Miu dress in the wardrobe next to her high street outfits. She inspected her Manolo heels and realised with dismay that they needed re-heeling. She didn’t know how much longer she would be able to keep the rent going on this place or the appearance of wealth, that was so important to her job.
“Come back to me when you’ve got something to show for yourself,” her father had said when he cut her off after she dropped out of the independent girl’s college that her mother and older sister had graduated from with distinction. Ironically her family wealth should be an asset in her chosen field, and while her accent and familiarity with social niceties lent her credibility, the fact that she actually needed a salary was something of a hindrance. Many of her peers were able to work for little or no money, content just to be part of the rarefied Mayfair art world.

She put the heels back in their box and dust bag before sitting at her mirror and removing her mascara and lipstick with a wet wipe. It was then that she made the decision to do it. Looking at her reflection through slightly stinging eyes, she’d decided that this was her moment. That night she fired off an email to an old friend, Andrew, someone who her family had never approved off.
“I’ve found the right client,” she typed. “Are you ready?”

Andrew, now living in Hong Kong, had a wealth of interesting contacts. A banker by day, he ran in very different circles by night. One of his sidelines involved supplementing his art collection and those of close colleagues with works that were indistinguishable from their originals, but were, well…not the originals. He hated to use the word fake, because to his mind they took great skill and a certain level of connoisseurship.

The plan was simple. Andrew would get his guy to paint a copy of an easily reproducible painting held in the inventory of the gallery she worked for. She would substitute the original with Andrew’s knock off. Rather conveniently Andrew had a buyer for the original, someone who was happy to hold the painting in his collection as a showpiece without returning it to the market for at least a few decades. This buyer would probably show the painting on his yacht and use it to boast to close friends and family. He is a difficult man, “make sure this happens,” he’d said to Andrew, “I want it, and what I want I always get.” He seemed excited by the heist and was happy to receive the piece at a massively discounted price due to the nature of the acquisition. Andrew’s already spent his half of the deposit on his rather expensive taste for opiates. She is also going to split the money they get for the original with Andrew, after they have paid the forger and settled the transport fees. Fifty-fifty, fair and square. That should buy a few more pairs of Manolos.


She prints off the paperwork and returns it to the client to sign on the dotted line. Like a true novice, he is happy to pay the balance in full.
“Obviously we have to pack the painting for transport,” she says to him, “where would you like the piece to be delivered to?”
He gives her an address in Chelsea and slopes off out of the gallery, his pockets now £1 million lighter.
The arrangement is for the piece to be delivered in a week. That gives her enough time to bring the reproduction into the gallery. It will have to be this weekend and at night, when the gallery is closed. She’s already inspected Andrew’s piece in the lock-up in Vauxhall and it is perfect. Yes, it wouldn’t hold up if it were inspected too heavily; say by the Warhol foundation or a seasoned collector like Andrew’s contact, but hopefully that won’t come to pass. Even if her young client does wish to sell it, and she has cautioned him not to for at least ten years to allow for value to accrue, she should be long gone. It’s not even her gallery, she’s just a lowly gallery girl earning £8.00 an hour; how could she have orchestrated such a plan?


The phone call arrives two days later, on Thursday at lunchtime. She’s been in the gallery all week, keeping at eye on things, making sure everything is set for the weekend and the swap. But today one of her heels finally snapped and she’s had to go to the overpriced cobblers in the arcade, five minutes down the road from the gallery. Its one of the interns calling, “Natalie, your client sent his assistant in just now.” She’s sitting next to the counter while the cobbler glues the heel onto her shoe. “The one that bought the Warhol.”

She starts to reply, but the noise of the machines buffing and whirring in the background make it hard for her to hear and be heard. She presses the phone to her ear and starts to make her way outside before she manages to make out “We packaged up the piece and its been collected. It’s left the gallery. Apparently he’s taking it with him to his new place in New York. It’s going with him on his private plane this afternoon.”