November 13, 2011


How I fooled the art world: To expose the madness at the heart of contemporary art, William Boyd invented a 'forgotten' American artist, Nat Tate. Now, 13 years on - and in a bizarre twist - one of Tate's paintings is being sold at Sotheby's (William Boyd, 13 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

It's a strange experience to stand in the main gallery at Sotheby's in Bond Street, looking at a small pen and ink drawing, Bridge no. 114 signed by the artist in his somewhat awkward, childish hand - "Nat Tate". It hangs alongside Lowrys, a Scottish Colourist, an Edward Burra, a Bridget Riley, a Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherlands and many other artistic luminaries ready to go under the hammer on November 15-16 at Sotheby's big Modern and Post-War British Art sale.

Nat Tate, however, is unique - because, alone among the many artists represented here, he never existed. I made him up and wrote his fictional biography in 1998. I'm also responsible for what remains of his output - Bridge no. 114 was created by me, I signed the name "Nat Tate" at the foot of the drawing - and, as I stand looking at it, I have this unusual feeling of vague pride and authorial distance. This is both my drawing and not my drawing. I half expect Nat Tate to stride into the room and shoulder me aside. For the only time in 30 years of writing fiction I have this sensation that a character I invented has taken on a life of his own beyond the pages of the fiction that enshrined him. The pleasure that I feel contemplating the sale ahead is as much Nat's as my own - a most unusual and not entirely comfortable state of mind.

The Nat Tate "affair" began on April Fools' Day in 1998 at a glittering party held in the artist Jeff Koons's studio in Manhattan. The host was David Bowie and he was celebrating the birth of his new publishing house, 21. My biography of Nat Tate was his inaugural publication and, apart from a very few present, nobody else knew that Nat was a fiction. Bowie read extracts from the book and an English journalist (one of the conspirators) moved through the throng asking leading questions and - people being people and not wanting to look ignorant or uninformed - many of them spoke openly about Nat Tate, warmly remembering aspects of his life, shows they had attended, reflecting on the sadness of his premature death.

...before it existed.

Posted by at November 13, 2011 8:16 AM

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