Monday, 17 March 2014




This week I decided to post two examples of museums which feature objects and processes related to an area of the art/museum world that we typically only hear about in the news: fakes, forgeries, and counterfeiting. I give to you the Museum of Counterfeiting in Paris, France and the Museum of Counterfeit Goods in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Museum of Counterfeiting in Paris, France was established in 1951 through the partnership of several different pharmaceutical manufacturers who formed a joint organization called Unifab (Union des Fabricants). At the end of the 19th century, the companies that now comprise Unifab realized their products were being counterfeited in different countries and decided to band together in pursuit of "international protection for industrial products."

Museum of Counterfeiting (Musee de la Contrefacon), Paris, France

The Museum of Counterfeiting is now located in a private mansion in Paris and educates visitors about counterfeiting, its impact on the international economy, and also raises awareness regarding the importance of intellectual property. Objects in the museum are both fake and authentic and range from Rodin bronzes, perfumes, textiles, toys, and more. Authentic and fake are displayed together, inviting visitors to make comparisons between the two.

Museum of Counterfeiting (Musee de la Contrefacon), Paris, France

The Tilleke & Gibbins Museum of Countefeit Goods in Bangkok seems to share a similar mission to its Parisian counterpart, hoping that by allowing visitors to view counterfeit goods alongside their genuine equivalents, visitors will "gain a new perspective on the extent and consequences of the counterfeiting of legitimate goods." The museum was established in 1989 in Bangkok, Thailand by a firm called Tilleke & Gibbins and houses about 4000 objects (from clothing and electronics to alcohol and tobacco and beyond) that exemplify intellectual property infringement.

Museum of Counterfeit Goods, Bangkok, Thailand

The museum's objects, or "goods" as they are referred to, were collected from raids, used as evidence in court, and subsequently stored away. Apart from occupying much valuable storage space, it became apparent that these items could serve a higher purpose: namely, educating the public on counterfeiting and intellectual property infringement. These are two ever growing economic and legal concerns not only in Thailand, but all over the world.

Museum of Counterfeit Goods, Bangkok, Thailand

While many of the items in both of the above museums are not necessarily art objects or historical artifacts, they draw attention to an important aspect of the art world/world of "high culture" goods -- that is, market (black market) trade, and questions of authenticity. These aspects of culture have sparked ongoing issues in terms of cultural property management and regulation at all levels - local, national, and international. We are told that the items in the above museums are fakes. What about in other museums? How do we, museum professionals and visitors alike, determine that what we see in a museum setting is, indeed, authentic (unless otherwise indicated)? What about items on display with unclear provenance (ownership history/authenticity)?

Museum of Counterfeiting, Paris
Fake handbags displayed next to their authentic counterparts

While we may not think it a big deal to buy knock-off handbags or sunglasses to save a few dollars or purchase other counterfeit items for the sheer novelty (and sometimes humour) of them being counterfeit, how do our attitudes towards these "less culturally significant" items shape our attitude toward, say, forgeries of archaeological artifacts or artworks that have found their way into museums?

There will likely always be a commercial market for art and, along with it, a black market for fakes, forgeries, and stolen items.  As such, I think museums like those discussed above are good ways to raise awareness among visitors and make people think about the kinds of things they consume (either by literally buying a commercial item or by "consuming" culture in museums) which are products of the market--legal or illegal. We may only hear about forged artworks or maybe even street vendors getting busted for selling knock-off merchandise on the news, but the reality is, this is a very real economic and cultural issue that takes place every day and at every level--local, national, international.

Perhaps by making an effort to raise awareness to cultural issues like those discussed here in trusted cultural institutions like museums, people will become more inclined to think about the implications of the things they consume (literally or figuratively) and the kinds of practices they (often unknowingly) support.


  1. This is a really interesting topic Brittney, and one that sometimes is glossed over in museums. As you pointed out, as visitors, sometimes we take for granted that the objects in front of us are authentic, but this reminds us to be critical of everything we look at. I think it's excellent that these two museums show the direct juxtaposition of counterfeit and authentic objects; I imagine that it would be harder than we would like to admit to tell them apart! On a different note, I wonder how the museum addresses the longevity of their exhibitions. Do they discuss anything beyond the comparison of these objects? Are there any temporary exhibitions? Or once you've gone to the museum once would you need to go again?

  2. And what a great segway into our Curatorial Practice class tomorrow, where we talk about designed objects as sites of contemporary structures of feelings between us and various objects.

  3. Meaghan, I had the same questions regarding their exhibitions as well! Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of detail on the institutions' respective websites regarding these areas. I would love to know if they address any wider issues regarding cultural property movement -- and here I mean historical artifacts/artworks rather than the underground market for handbags, watches, etc. However, I would imagine both the underground market trade in cultural artifacts/art and more, shall we say, pop cultural items, function in similar ways. Thus, it would be interesting to explore these issues in museums such as the ones in Paris and Bangkok!