Distributor:  Icarus Films
Length:  56 minutes
Date:  2010
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 10-12, College, Adult
Color/BW:  Color
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Stolen Art

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In 1978 in New York City, an unknown Czech artist by the name of Pavel Novak held an exhibit entitled Stolen Art...

Stolen Art

In New York City in 1978, an unknown Czech artist by the name of Pavel Novak held an exhibit at WX Gallery entitled 'Stolen Art,' which featured paintings by Rembrandt, Courbet, Van Gogh and other great masters, all reproduced with astonishing accuracy by Novak. Following the claim by a private collector that one painting, Courbet's 'The Calm Sea' was actually an original stolen from his home, the FBI shut down the exhibit and Novak disappeared without a trace.

In investigating the scandal created by this outlaw artist, filmmaker Simon Backes learns that few today are aware of the event while those who are refuse to speak about it. His search takes him worldwide-from New York to Prague, Leiden, Paris, St. Petersburg, St. Moritz and Rome-as he visits leading museums and interviews art experts, curators, collectors, journalists, and critics, including Karel Michalik, a colleague of Novak's, who wrote a provocative essay for the exhibit's program.

In the course of its investigation-which includes Super 8mm footage of the 1978 exhibit (with Andy Warhol, among others, in attendance) and journalist Barbara Lorey's tape-recorded phone interview with Novak-the film discusses his philosophy of the 'reappropriation' and 'redistribution' of great art, how authentic art can be distinguished from reproductions, the relationship between artists, critics and collectors, the role of memory in art appreciation, and the role of art forgers.

In trying to determine whether Novak was a brilliant art forger or a remarkable thief, however, the mystery merely thickens and the question becomes not so much who created what, but who created whom?

'Fascinating... the film goes out of its way to be accessible to art newbies and explains many interesting concepts of art appreciation and interpretation in the midst of a Usual Suspects-like mystery that also plays like a comedy of errors that is international copyright law.' - Erin Donovan, linktv.org

'An investigation with the allure of a philosophical thriller... brimming with intelligence and erudition.' - Philippe Simon, Cinergie, revue du Cinema Belge

'Is true art illegal? Do paintings lose their beauty once they are privately hoarded and can no longer be appreciated collectively? The questions raised are as intriguing as the answers.' - Angie Driscoll, Hot Docs Festival Program


Main credits

Backès, Simon (Screenwriter)
Backès, Simon (Director)
Tavier, Vincent (Producer)
Kauffmann, Philippe (Producer)

Other credits

Editors, Laora Bardos, Thomas Baudour; cinematography, Hichame Alaouie.

Distributor credits

A Film by Simon Backes

Docuseek2 subjects

The Politics of Art

Distributor subjects

Cultural Studies
US and Canadian Broadcast Rights


forgeries; forgery; stolen art; forged art; exhibitions; gallery; galleries; exhibit; Pavel Novak; documentary; film; video ; DVD; "Stolen Art"; Icarus Films

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