Categorized | Features

The Forgery of Venus, by Michael Gruber 2008

Chaz Willmott is an artist, a painter. But he might not really be Chaz Willmott; he might be Diego Velasquez. The picture of Venus might be something he was paid a lot of money to forge, or it could be that he actually painted it when he was Velasquez. If that sounds confusing, get ready for 318 pages of confusion about who Chaz really is and what he is up to.
As it turns out, old Chaz is simply the vehicle Gruber uses to delve into the question of art (mostly as in painting), genius and its relationship to being crazy, the world of art (as in buying and selling) and the process of finding out who you really are and becoming that person.
Chaz is already somewhat confused and more than a little unstable when he becomes involved in a program dedicated to human tests on a drug that alters one’s perception of time.
Chaz is the ideal candidate. He goes way beyond a mild slowing down of time and is transported back to the time of Velasquez, in fact becomes him for a while. Then it’s back to being Chaz. Then back to Velasquez.
After a while, Chaz (and the reader) aren’t sure who he is. This is interesting, up to a point. Is he a commercial hack cranking out crap for slick magazines, or is he a genius who can’t quite figure out what he wants to paint?
Is he in fact a world-class painter? Enter Krebs, the kingpin of underworld art, where the traffic in forgeries is a billion dollar business. Krebs sees Chaz as the man who, as a forger, will make him a great deal of money and puts into play a vastly complex scheme that takes up much of the book.
The scheme seems to work out well for all concerned, but it’s difficult to keep track of exactly what transpired. And we learn nothing about the relationship between insanity and genius, except that it sometimes happens. Not a big insight.
There is a lot of stuff about the actual act of painting, which might be useful, or interesting, to people who have painting as a hobby.