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Exhibition of Imitation and Invention from Innocent to Fraudulent
'Bay Psalm Book'. The Rosenbach’s genuine copy of the first book printed in what is now the United States, the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, which provided forensic evidence in a notorious forgery case that included two murders.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Friend or Faux: Imitation and Invention from Innocent to Fraudulent explores the attractions and pitfalls of authenticity, in a major exhibition at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. On view through July 11, 2010, the exhibition engages visitors in the stories behind a wide range of fakes, copies, imitations, and forgeries, bringing together over forty paintings, manuscripts, books, and decorative arts objects from the museum’s collection. Who created them? Why were they acquired? The exhibition addresses these questions and more, demonstrating that both friend and faux can be useful tools for understanding the past.

Objects featured in Friend or Faux date from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, spanning over five hundred years of history. Exhibition highlights include the Rosenbach’s genuine copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in what is now the United States, which provided forensic evidence in a notorious forgery case that included two murders. Joseph Cosey’s forged manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher will also be on display. Cosey’s productions are now collectibles in their own right, and have themselves been the subject of forgeries.

“People often think of the word ‘copy’ as derogatory. In this exhibition, we’ll show that in the museum and library context, copies are not only benign, but sometimes unique windows into history that we treasure in our collections,” says Judith M. Guston, Curator and Director of Collections at the Rosenbach. “Likewise, while we know forgeries are intentional and sometimes dangerous deceptions, we are bound to ask what we can learn from the role they played in the artistic, economic, and legal worlds during and since their production. But, moreover, Friend or Faux is about storytelling. Every object has a story that’s waiting to be told. Some of these stories just need a lot more unraveling than others, and those are the stories in this exhibition.”

Friend or Faux presents the museum’s collection of originals, altered originals, copies, artistic homages, and illegal forgeries intended to fool even the most seasoned scholar, in five sections across two galleries. Copies explore objects made without the intent to deceive, such as a family memento, an artist’s homage to a mentor, or a replacement for a missing object. Local Legends look at how some objects take on stories through no fault of their own. Objects created with the intent to deceive are exposed in Forgeries, while How much is real? questions when an object is no longer what it purports to be (if a missing page in a hundred-page book is replaced, the book is mostly authentic; what if twenty were replaced?). Attribution takes on how works are attributed to an artist, author, or period of manufacture.

Some of the items featured in Friend or Faux were acquired with full knowledge of their history while others may have fooled even Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, co-founder of the Rosenbach Museum & Library, himself. Objects on display include:

• William Henry Ireland’s infamous forgeries of Shakespeare, which range from love letters to entire manuscripts of plays. Ireland found many people ready to believe in his fabricated Shakespeare documents.

• Thomas Sully’s portrait of renowned Philadelphia merchant Michael Gratz, and a copy of it made by Sully’s own daughter.

• Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, from the library of his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne.

• Manuscript facsimiles of rare American pamphlets made by Dr. Rosenbach’s uncle.

• A Bellarmine jug, a genuine Elizabethan object, which by the mid-20th century had an unusual legend attached to the piece. It was claimed to be the “Earl of Oxford’s jug,” owned by Edward de Vere, whom some insist was the true author behind Shakespeare’s works. Under scrutiny, this legend falls apart.

A second rotation of objects will be installed in the exhibition on March 16, 2010, providing a unique experience with each set of objects.

Friend or Faux is collaboratively curated by the Rosenbach Museum & Library’s Judith M. Guston, Curator and Director of Collections, Elizabeth E. Fuller, Librarian, and Kathy Haas, Curatorial Assistant.

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