Spot the fake

After admitting that around one third of its Coptic art collection was fake, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hasannounced plans to display them in an unusual exhibition next year, in which Coptic works still considered to be genuine will be deliberately placed alongside those which have now been deemed counterfeit. The Independent reports that the exhibition will serve to alert other museums of possible fakes in their collections, but it also questions the motives behind our desire for authenticity in art. Others have argued that the differences between the fakes and the genuine Coptic artefacts reveals to us what later generations have hoped to see in a period of history, or how they've wished to characterise a civilsation. The Art Newspaper reports "the fakes...place a greater emphasis on Christian iconography than the authentic works. This reflects market demand for such imagery in Europe and North America".

The wisdom of crowds

On a similar theme, a new exhibition, 'Click! A Crowd-Curated Museum', attempts to answer that perennial question: is it art? Using the idea of aggregate intelligence - that a group will, collectively, reach a more "accurate" estimation than they would as individuals - the Brooklyn Museum asked 3,344 members of the public to select photographs on the theme of Brooklyn, by mixture of professional and so-called amateur photographers. The top 20 per cent were then displayed at the museum. Reactions have been mixed: Ken Johnson at the New York Times writes "the exhibition itself is not very interesting to look at, but the issues it raises are fascinating."

Hungarian horror stories

Two new films will explore the life of notorious Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, but it is unclear whether either will separate myth from fact. The seventeenth century aristocrat has long been the subject of historical rumours and an inspiration for Hammer's 1971 film Countess Dracula, after reports that Bathory used to torture and murder her female servants before bathing in their blood. More recently, however, historians have tried to reclaim her reputation, arguing that the gruesome stories were invented after her death. After surveying the existing books on Bathory, Tony Thorne at the Telegraph concludes "it's just not possible to say for certain whether she really was a depraved monster...or an innocent victim of male jealousy and greed."

In brief

Irina Baronova, the celebrated ballet dancer of the 1930s and 1940s, died earlier this week. The Herald Tribune praised her for her "indelible classical style and virtuosic technique." Meanwhile, Screen Actor's Guild members seem due to go ahead with their plans to strike despite last-minute negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The Times reported that the average SAG member earns only around £26,000 a year before agents take a cut of their earnings, in contrast to the stereotype that the actor's strike is being pushed for by Hollywood millionaires. In the UK, Tartan films, theinfluential distribitor of independent films such as Battle Royale and 9 Songs, was moved into administration last Thursday, and it seems unlikely it will be able to resume trading. Screen Daily reports that "distributors are clamouring to buy the back-catalogue," which also includes 2002's Irreversible and the acclaimed Korean film Oldboy.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left