News

City is satisfied artwork is legitimate

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Enumclaw's brush with controversy, which sprang to life among suspicions that a city-owned piece of art was counterfeit, proved short-lived.

An e-mail surfaced last week from a Thai artist claiming to be the creative force behind “Boys in the Band,” and that proved sufficient for the city.

The potentially-sticky situation arose Aug. 9, two days before the city was to formally unveil a bronze work that has adorned the City Hall lawn since June. The Seattle Times raised doubts about the piece's authenticity, focusing in on the name of the artist, Jim Davidson, inscribed on the base. According to artistically-inclined Web sites, the name has been linked to counterfeit art.

While noting the Seattle newspaper neither proved nor disproved the counterfeit claims, the city cancelled the unveiling, which was to take place as part of the annual, downtown Art Walk festivities. Mayor John Wise went so far as to state the city would have the piece destroyed if, in fact, it proved counterfeit.

The city spent the following days investigating the situation, also landing on the receiving end of interesting e-mails between The Seattle Times and the art broker who sold “Boys in the Band.” The city bought the piece, site unseen, for slightly less than $5,700. The online seller was wishihadthat.com, which sells to private individuals, businesses and government entities.

Jim Welch, a wishihadthat.com representative, defended the bronze piece, stood by his company's reputation and accused the Seattle paper of conducting inadequate research and jumping to journalistic conclusions. A Times editor, in response, defended her reporter's article as well-written and well-researched.

An integral part of the brouhaha was the claim that Jim Davidson does not exist and is, perhaps, a fictitious name used on pieces that may be too similar to work of established artists.

The issue was resolved to the city's satisfaction when an e-mail was issued by Sorravut Hattakitkosol, claiming he is the Thai artist who creates works using the name Jim Davidson. He wrote that he created “Boys in the Band” in December 2001 and began exporting bronze castings of the piece the following year. He included his own address and that of his company, Leela Art Production, and invited doubters to pay a visit.

While forwarding the e-mail from Thailand, Welch said a large staff, in-house foundry and cheap labor costs allow Hattakitkosol to produce art far cheaper than similar pieces by American artists.

The city had never claimed “Boys in the Band” was a one-of-a-kind original. Gary LaTurner, Enumclaw's arts director, had said local artists were contacted, but could not produce anything of similar scale for the same price. So, LaTurner turned to the Internet to do his shopping.

Last week's turn of events left Wise satisfied, convinced the city received exactly what it paid for.

“That's as far as we can go, unless we want to go all the way to Thailand, and we're not going to do that,” the mayor said, citing the apparent authenticity of the Hattakitkosol e-mail.

LaTurner said he was comfortable dealing with wishihadthat.-com. “I have complete faith in their honesty,” he said.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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