Dozens of of forgeries – from ancient Greek statues to prehistoric fossils and fine Chinese porcelain – have been discovered in the Surrey Museum outside of Vancouver.
But this isn’t some embarrassing scandal in the Vancouver ‘burbs. It’s the museums newest exhibit, Fakes and Forgeries, which gives visitors a chance to see if they can distinguish between the knock-offs and the real thing.
The exhibit looks at the incredible lengths forgers – both past and present – have gone to in order to hoodwink museums and collectors. The items on display are part of a traveling exhibition from the Royal Ontario Museum, where for decades many of the fakes were unwittingly displayed as real artifacts, undetected even by the nation’s best curators.
The 1,500-square-foot exhibit features 11 different cases, each highlighting a different type of forgery and featuring a collection of real and fake artifacts to compare. It’s up to the viewer to decide which is which, and it’s not always easy. There are also fascinating stories behind the forgeries and how they were discovered.
Inside the Egyptian antiquities case, for instance, are fragments of two reliefs, the type that would have once decorated walls and columns in Ancient Egypt. One is a priceless specimen dating from between 2040 and 1963 B.C. The other is a few thousand years newer and totally worthless.
Nearby, another case contains fascinating pre-Columbian pottery from Mexico, including a series of urns depicting the fierce-looking rain god, Cociji. Only when museum curators used an advanced technique known as thermoluminescense – which determines when a ceramic object was fired in a kiln – were they able to distinguish between the real ones (created between 200-500 A.D.) and the fakes (made between 1907 and 1915).
Apart from its collection of ancient forgeries, the exhibition also features displays of modern fakes, likely familiar to anyone who has shopped at one of Vancouver’s Asian night markets. You can test your luck identifying knock-off Chanel bags, fake Nike running shoes, counterfeit jeans and even hockey jerseys. A separate section showcases the thriving market in fake household goods, ranging from black market toothpaste to electrical cords and devices.
Fakes and Forgeries is on display at the Surrey Museum in Surrey, B.C., from Feb. 11-May 24.