Australian museum admits that ‘Picassos’ hanging in restroom are fake

A museum in Australia has come clean: The Picasso paintings hanging in its women’s restroom were forged by one of its own curators.

The American curator and artist Kirsha Kaechele — who is married to the owner of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) — admitted in a blog post on Wednesday that she produced three fake Picassos which had previously hung in the museum’s “Ladies Lounge,” an installation exploring misogyny.

The Ladies Lounge first made headlines in 2020 as a female-only space displaying what were presented as original Picassos once owned by Kaechele’s great-grandmother. Last month, as a tongue-in-cheek response to a male visitor’s complaint about being barred from the installation, the paintings were relocated to a female restroom. At the time, CNN asked MONA to provide the paintings’ names, but the museum did not respond.

In her blog post, which was titled “Art Is Not Truth,” Kaechele said she painted the works in secret (with the help of her manicurist’s niece) and claimed that even gallery staff were fooled.

The curator said she decided to forge the paintings — after joking about the idea over drinks with a friend — because she wanted them to match the space’s color scheme and green silk curtains.

Enclosed in green silk curtains, the Ladies Room was opened for female visitors in 2020. - Jesse Hunniford/MONA
Enclosed in green silk curtains, the Ladies Room was opened for female visitors in 2020. - Jesse Hunniford/MONA

“I knew of a number of Picasso paintings I could borrow from friends, but none of them were green and I wished for the Lounge to be monochrome. I also had time working against me, not to mention the cost of insuring a Picasso — exorbitant!” Kaechele wrote.

Accusations of misogyny leveled against the Spanish painter and sculptor since his death in 1973 were central to the concept of the installation, she added, describing Picasso’s “record with women” as “intense.”

“Women have been pulling him (Picasso) apart lately, questioning his supremacy. They question my selection of his art. And I like that. I liked that a misogynist would dominate the walls of the Ladies Lounge. ” Kaechele wrote.

“Three years ago I fantasized there would be a scandal: ‘Fake Picassos Exposed: Art Fraud!’ I imagined that a Picasso scholar, or maybe just a Picasso fan, or maybe just someone who Googles things, would visit the Ladies Lounge and see that the painting was upside down and expose me on social media,” she added.

Kaechele also revealed that other works displayed in the Ladies Lounge were not genuine. A collection of New Guinean spears presented as antiques were in fact brand new. A rug presented as once belonging to Queen Mary of Denmark was also a modern creation made from “low-grade polyester,” she said.

“I am relieved I have told you because now we can revel together in this madness,” Kaechele added. “Assuming you still want to speak to me. (I hope you can forgive me.)”

But why?

Explaining the idea behind the Ladies Lounge, Kaechele said she knew it “had to be as opulent and sumptuous as possible.” Including the world’s “very best” art helped make men “feel as excluded as possible,” she added.

The Ladies Lounge, a green velvet-draped room adorned with gold detailing, opened “to any and all ladies” in December 2020. The installation claimed that women would be “surrounded by priceless works of art including several that demonstrate the genius of Picasso,” whilst being served by male butlers.

Artworks were relocated to the "Ladies Room" to keep men out. - Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Artworks were relocated to the "Ladies Room" to keep men out. - Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

“So I filled the Lounge with ‘invaluable’ objects, framing each — physically (in gold) and metaphorically (with dubious stories centered around a fictional woman, a version of myself). Stories available only to those on the inside (women), each more absurd than the last,” Kaechele wrote.

Kaechele added that “each of those stories intended to raise questions around gender, freedom, power structures, authenticity, and value.”

“All these illusions built the fantasy for those who are afforded the experience of the Lounge, and, importantly, those who are excluded.”

Earlier this year, MONA was forced to allow men into the exhibit after a tribunal ruled that it was “discriminatory.” The move followed a complaint by Jason Lau, a visitor from New South Wales, who was barred from entering the Ladies Lounge in April 2023. Lau, who had paid the 35 Australian dollars ($23) entry fee, said he had experienced direct gender discrimination.

Kaechele told the tribunal that denying men entry to the mysterious room was indeed part of the art — giving them a taste of the discrimination and exclusion many women have experienced through history.

She subsequently found a loophole by installing the paintings in a female restroom.

“While the Ladies Lounge undergoes a series of reforms to meet the exemptions required for reopening, I’ve been doing a little redecorating,” she told CNN in an email at the time. “I thought a few of the bathrooms in the museum could do with an update. Some Cubism in the cubicles.”

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