Photo Of The Day

Avantgarde artist Pierre Brassau in his Studio/Cage.

Avantgarde artist Pierre Brassau in his Studio/Cage.

A New Artist On The Scene

“Only an Ape could have done this”

If you’ve ever looked at a piece of art and thought, “a Monkey could have made this,” You might actually be onto something.

By its very nature, avant-garde art is experimental and forces people to rethink their ideas about culture and politics. However, sometimes really abstract pieces can leave you scratching your head and as they say art, like magnificence, is in the vision of the beholder. A few could even believe that a chimpanzee’s paintings are of the calibre of, say, French artist Pierre Brassau. Never discovered him? That’s because he’s not necessarily true!

One of the greatest acts of trolling in the history of art happened in 1964, when journalist Ake Axelsson and a few of his colleagues fooled local critics into praising paintings done by a chimpanzee. The men wanted to know if the critics were expert enough to distinguish between real and fake art, so they provided Peter the chimp with art equipment, collected his best works, and exhibited them in an art gallery under the name of fictitious French artist Pierre Brassau. Only one of the critics found the paintings lacking, while the rest praised them effusively. One critic named Rolf Anderberg even described the artist as someone who “paints with powerful strokes [and] performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” He later tried to save face after the journalists exposed the hoax, saying that he still considered the chimp’s artwork to be the best in the exhibit.

The new avant-garde artist was introduced to the art scene in the Swedish city of Gōteborg. The fresh new artist Pierre Brassau and his work received rave reviews from critics and art fans alike.

Brassau featured four paintings in the 1964 exhibition at Gallerie Christinae, and even sold one “masterpiece” to a collector named Bertil Eklöt for $90 (about $700 today).  The exhibition featured paintings from artists across Europe, but it was the hot new French Artist who stole the show.

Pierre Brassau Painting from the 1964 Göteborg Show.

Pierre Brassau Painting from the 1964 Göteborg Show.

Pierre Brassau’s Art Show Hoax in Göteborg.

Pierre Brassau’s Art Show Hoax in Göteborg.

When Axelsson exposed the truth about the paintings, Anderberg—the critic who loved them so much—refused to revoke what he had said about the artwork. He stood firm on his stance that the chimpanzee had produced a better work of art than any other artist in the gallery show.

When Axelsson exposed the truth about the paintings, Anderberg —the critic who loved them so much—, refused to revoke what he had said about the artwork. He stood firm on his stance that the chimpanzee had produced a better work of art than any other artist in the gallery show.

One critic in particular, Rolf Anderberg, was so overwhelmed by Pierre’s talent that he wrote the following review about his work, which appeared in print the morning following the exhibition:

 Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.

 The reviews were glowing. All but one.  One critic’s review was short and to the point: “Only an ape could have done this.”

The opinion was unpopular among the other critics, despite that the pieces of art looking strikingly similar to “art” you commonly see stuck to refrigerators, produced by 2 year olds the world over.  It turns out, though, that the “ape” review more or less hit the nail on the head.

Pierre Brassau was actually none other than a young West African chimpanzee named Peter who lived in the Borås djurpark zoo in Sweden.  The mastermind behind the hoax was journalist Åke “Dacke” Axelsson. Axelsson worked for the Swedish tabloid Gotebors-Tidningen and came up with the idea of featuring the primate paintings in an exhibition in order to put the critics to the test. Could they recognize the work of true avant-garde modern artists?

"Brassau paints with powerful strokes…his brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer." A single critic from the show dismissed Brassau's artwork stating, "Only an ape could have done this." Ironically, he was right.

“Brassau paints with powerful strokes…his brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” A single critic from the show dismissed Brassau’s artwork stating, “Only an ape could have done this.” Ironically, he was right.

Axelsson and the zookeeper kept several bunches of bananas close by and soon discovered that the more bananas he ate, the more creative his paintings got. Sometimes, Peter would eat up to nine bananas in a space of just 10 minutes!

Axelsson and the zookeeper kept several bunches of bananas close by and soon discovered that the more bananas he ate, the more creative his paintings got. Sometimes, Peter would eat up to nine bananas in a space of just 10 minutes!

Pierre Brassau. While Axelsson was hoping to embarrass folks in the art world, he had no way of knowing how successful Brassau's paintings would really be. And as it turned out, his ape origins didn't really matter.

Pierre Brassau. While Axelsson was hoping to embarrass folks in the art world, he had no way of knowing how successful Brassau’s paintings would really be. And as it turned out, his ape origins didn’t really matter.

Peter the Chimpanzee, the secret behind Pierre Brassau’s Practical Joke on the Art World.

Peter the Chimpanzee, the secret behind Pierre Brassau’s Practical Joke on the Art World.

Axelsson convinced Peter’s teenage caretaker to let the chimpanzee play with some oil paints and a brush. Initially, Peter ate more paint than he managed to get onto the canvasses; his favorite “flavour” was cobalt blue, a color which featured prominently in his later work.  With some encouragement, Peter soon began to develop his artistic skills. Once he finished showing off his artistic talents, producing several paintings, Axelsson chose the four which he considered the most worthy to be displayed, and set about getting them included in the exhibition at the Gallerie Christinae.

Once the hoax was revealed, the critic who had previously compared Pierre Brassau with a ballet dancer, Rolf Anderberg, doggedly stuck by his assessment and stated that Pierre’s work “was still the best painting in the exhibition”.

Brassau went down in history as a perfect example of how beauty, and the value of art, truly is in the eye of the beholder. Additionally, Brassau would go on to inspire other people to market artwork created by their animals. In one famous incident, a collector showed a painting of multicolored blotches to the director of the National Arts Foundation Museum in Moritzburg. When asked what her opinion of the painting was, she stated she thought a famous painter, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, might have created it. As it turned out, a chimpanzee named Gambhi painted it.

While some believe Brassau had little to no effect on the art world, it’s undeniable that his paintings spawned a whole new genre of art. Since the hoax was revealed, the art world had seen paintings done by birds, elephants, gorillas, orangutans, and even a retired racehorse, Metro Meteor. The artwork begs the question, is art or creativity exclusive to the human race? At this point, there is no real way to communicate with these animal artists, but perhaps the lack of thought process is really what makes the artwork so appealing.

In 2005, the director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Dr Kajta Schneider,  mistakenly identified a painting as the work of Ernst Wilhelm Nay, a Guggenheim Prize winning artist. In fact, the painting was done by Banghi who was a chimpanzee living at Halle Zoo.

Pockets, whose owner had to give him up, now resides at a sanctuary near Uxbridge. As part of his therapy he paints Warhol-like images. His works will be on exhibit Tuesday in Toronto as part of a fundraiser for the sanctuary.Photo: CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR.

Pockets, whose owner had to give him up, now resides at a sanctuary near Uxbridge. As part of his therapy he paints Warhol-like images. His works are in an exhibit in Toronto as part of a fundraiser for the sanctuary.Photo: CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR.

In 2011, Pockets Warhol, a capuchin monkey currently living in a sanctuary in Toronto, had his own art exhibition featuring 40 of his abstract paintings. His paintings have been purchased by people across the globe and sell for as much as $300 each. Proceeds from the sale of his artwork go to helping care for the other residents of the animal sanctuary where he lives.

In 2010, Jimmy, a 27 year old chimpanzee living in Rio De Janeiro, earned national acclaim for his artistic talents. When Jimmy’s caretakers realized that he had become depressed, they decided to give him some paints to brighten up his days. Jimmy showed an instant aptitude for art and has since become a household name across Brazil. He even has an art instructor who visits him 3 times a week.

In 2009, 3 paintings by Congo the chimpanzee sold at auction for more than $25,000. Congo was born in 1954 and produced around 400 paintings during his life. He died at age 10 of tuberculosis. Pablo Picasso is reported to have been a fan of Congo’s work, and in fact owned one of Congo’s paintings, which hung on his studio wall.

Pablo Picasso’s actually name was a tad longer than you might expect. Specifically, it was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

The Card Players, 1890–92, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Card Players, 1890–92, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The most expensive piece of art sold to date is one of the versions of The Card Players, by Paul Cézanne, which sold for somewhere between $250-$320 million to the Royal Family of Qatar. Qatar is on the Arabian Peninsula and has a population of just 2 million people and only about 250,000 citizens, yet a gross domestic product of about $182 billion, giving it the highest per capita gross domestic product of any country in the world. If you guessed that their little country has a lot of oil, you’d be right. They also have rich supplies of natural gas. Not only is it one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita, but it also has one of the lowest tax rates, including having no income tax.

According to the New York Times, in 2006 Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 seen to your right below “White Center” sold for $140 million to David Martinez. Martinez later denied the New York Times’ claim and stated he never made such a purchase, but this type of secrecy is not uncommon when one purchases something so valuable and portable. He is still thought to be the owner of the painting. Before Martinez apparently purchased Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, it was owned at the time by famed music producer and businessman, David Geffen. That same year, Geffen also sold three other paintings, one by Dr Kooning and two by Jasper Johns, grossing another $143 million combined bringing in a cool $283 million off selling just 4 paintings in the span of a few months.

Jackson Pollack No. 5, 1948

According to the New York Times, in 2006 Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, as seen above, “White Center” sold for $140 million to David Martinez. Martinez later denied the New York Times’ claim and stated he never made such a purchase, but this type of secrecy is not uncommon when one purchases something so valuable and portable. He is still thought to be the owner of the painting. Before Martinez apparently purchased Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, it was owned at the time by famed music producer and businessman, David Geffen. That same year, Geffen also sold three other paintings, one by Dr Kooning and two by Jasper Johns, grossing another $143 million combined bringing in a cool $283 million off selling just 4 paintings in the span of a few months.

The sun fell asleep over Adriatic by Joachim-Raphaël Boronali.

The sun fell asleep over Adriatic by Joachim-Raphaël Boronali.

Back in 1910 a similar thing happened with a painting created by an ass.

In the end of the 19th century a group of innovative artists including Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Camille Pissarro organized Salon des Indépendants to exhibit their work. It became very famous and attracted most of the progressive French artists. In the March of 1910 the picture by an unknown artist J.R. Boronali was on display in the salon.

It did not draw much attention since it did not stand out from the other paintings around it. Soon, however, a newspaper reported that the picture was painted by an ass.

The writer Roland Dorgelès with accomplices hired an ass from the owner of Montmartre cabaret Lapin Agile. The hoaxers placed the donkey before a canvas, tied a brush to his tail and fed him carrots. While chewing, the ass vigorously wiggled his tail thereby creating the masterpiece. People’s only contribution was to dip the brush into paints and to sign the picture at the end. The name Boronali was an anagram of Aliboron, an ass from La Fontaine’s fable.

Boronali_donkey_painting_a_picture

On April 1, Dorgelès published in humoristic journal Fantasio the manifest of Excessivism, a new school of art created by the ass. It was a parody of the manifests of other progressive artistic schools.

le_matin_boronali

Inspired by this event Russian artist Mikhail Larionov organized an artistic group “Donkey’s tail”. The group among others included Kazimir Malevich. Their manifesto read as follows (translation)

Last year in Paris a painting was exhibited and did not attract much attention. After the exhibition Parisian newspapers announced that the picture was painted by donkey’s tail. Yellow press made noise about this incident. Now we are taking up the gauntlet. The audience thinks that we are painting with donkey’s tail – we will be Donkey’s Tail.

More hoaxes that embarrassed the art world had followed, including Disumbrationist School of Painting and Avantgarde artist Pierre Brassau.

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Monkey Makes Warhol-Like Painting

Art Zoo Story

Avantgarde Artist Pierre Brassau

The Monkey Artist

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  • Old Kiwi

    POTD can’t be a coincidence surely.

    Pete really should hold on to his doodle from last night’s Back Chat. May be worth quite a lot.

  • shykiwibloke

    I can’t decide if this article is a bit of a dig at Pete, though the monkey is not wearing the purple gown as seen in earlier posts…

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