© 2020 Abigail Sarver-Verhey

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bringing together art & science

I was responsible for the development of this collaborative project, including the choice of exhibition topic, content and object research, and conceptualization of the narrative and goals. I passed the completed development package on to a designer who refined the exhibit experiences and designed the spatial and graphic elements.



Emerging from an art museum’s permanent collection, visitors enter into what is seemingly another typical art exhibition. Vermeer: Seeing God features a small selection of five works from Vermeer’s religious period. As visitors round the corner of a central wall, however, the "FAKE” title wall reveals that the Vermeer pieces in the gallery they have just walked through are all forgeries! 


A rounded alcove leading back to the start of the “Vermeer” gallery gives visitors the option to walk through it again if they are interested, reexamining the paintings and their assumptions about them just as art historians were forced to when they discovered the true origins of the works.


The Studio is the first of the two major sections of the exhibition. It focuses on the creation of forgeries and the various methods and materials forgers use in crafting their deception. 


Forging signatures is an essential part of attributing a fake painting to a real artist. A Jackson Pollock forgery with a misspelled signature is displayed next to an interactive in which visitors can attempt to forge signatures themselves.


The story of Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi provides a fascinating, object rich example of the lengths to which forgers go to establish provenance, or the record of an artwork's ownership. Among the objects displayed are stolen and forged gallery collection stamps, a fake historical photograph for which Helene posed as her own grandmother amongst Wolfgang’s forged paintings, and a forged gallery stamp.

A bay of cabinets filled with a rainbow of small glass pigment bottles lines the central wall of the exhibition, providing a glimpse between the two sections. In the Studio, the pigment wall showcases the materials forgers use.


The Risley Park Lanx, a silver ornamental plate forged by Englishman Shaun Greenhalgh out of melted Roman coins, is featured. It shows the creative materials forgers use to ensure their works appear as old as they claim.


A video features an art forger demonstrating the process he uses to falsely age paintings and sculpture. Bottles on the surrounding shelves are illuminated along with their use in the video to encourage visitors to explore the library further.


From the Studio, visitors move into the Lab, which focuses on the detection of forgeries by scientists and art experts. 


A Kouros statue from the Getty, long suspected to be a forgery, shows how experts use stylistic analysis to determine the likelihood of a works' authenticity. 

A half-uncovered Goya forgery provides an eye catching introduction to the use of x-rays in forgery detection. Visitors can try out x-ray investigation by sliding a digital x-ray screen over two Van Gogh/"Van Gogh" canvases to reveal clues such as the weave of the canvas and the artist’s under-drawing.


The pigment cases continue along the inner wall of the room, serving as as a backdrop to different methods of analyzing paintings for authenticity.


In a video, an art detective explains how paints can be used to date artworks. The surrounding pigments are arranged in a chronological order of invention, from the red ochre used by ancient people to recent 20th century inventions such as titanium white, and illuminated as they are mentioned in the video.


Further down the wall, a palette used by the forger Elmyr de Hory is displayed. From this palette a digital library of de Hory’s paints was developed. A digital interactive allows visitors to use this palette like an art detective would by selecting a painting, digitally sampling the paint, and attempting to match the chemical composition of the paint to de Hory’s palette.


FAKE concludes with a super-sized graphic of Max Ernst’s La Forêt bisected by Wolfgang Beltracchi’s La Forêt (2), a forgery of Ernst’s work. The conclusion panel emphasizes the duality of art and science in forgery, a thread that has been consistent throughout the exhibition.

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exhibition development

big idea

Art forgeries are both created and detected using tools of art and science.



Shows how artistic and scientific methods can be applied together to solve real world problems (STEAM).



  • Primary: high school students

  • Secondary: people not typically interested in art

learning goals (visitors will...)

  • Understand what an art forgery is.

  • See how art is forged through artistic, historical, and scientific methods.

  • Learn how forgeries are detected through scientific, historical, and artistic methods.

  • Learn about major historical art forgeries.

  • See how art and science frequently intersect to solve complex problems.


experiential goals (visitors will...)

  • Feel deceived by the trickery of art forgery.

  • Be amazed by all of the skills that go into creating an art forgery.

  • Recognize that it is very hard to get away with art forgery.

  • See and do the techniques of art and science. See forged artworks.

concept mapping process

floor plan

bubble diagram

Exhibition checklist