The Orange Regional Gallery (Art Museum), in the Australian state of New South Wales hosted an exhibition in early 2001 with the title "Fantastic Art." It was curated by Damian Michaels. In the catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, Alan Sisley, director of the Gallery paid tribute to Damain Michaels for his collection: "I am grateful to Damian Michaels not only for his unerring professional exhibition development, but also for drawing so many of these fine artists to my attention." (p.2). The exhibition at Orange was of paintings collected by Damian Michaels as acknowledged on the final page of the catalogue (p.20): "All works in this exhibition are from The Collection Art Visionary."
The means by which a collection might be acquired
Though I cannot speak for all other works in the exhibition, the means by which Michaels might have come to "acquire" these works is of interest. Michaels emailed me to "invite" me to contribute one of my works to be included in this show. The "invitation" took the form of a request that I donate a painting to him, so that it would become part of his "Collection Art Visionary", for it to therefore qualify for the exhibition. Put simply, this was a request for a payment to be made in the form of a painting. Damian Michaels had already "acquired" a collection of works during the production of the 3 issues - with the promise of many more issues to follow - of his magazine ArtVisionary.
l declined Michaels' "invitation", primarily on 2 grounds, my objection to making payment for my inclusion in an exhibition in which the curator would keep the works selected for exhibition, and that this exhibition would include the forgeries of the works of Beksinski by Lukasz Banach.
Regarding Sisley's claim to Michaels' "professionalism": The Orange Regional Gallery catalogue lists sponsors on p. 24. Art Museums should list their benefactors. "Benefactors" includes bequests made by artists or patrons. Artists who "donated" their works to Michaels are not listed.
Another exhibition was organised by the Orange Regional Gallery to follow the first. This second exhibition was basically the original show re–branded with the addition of "visionary art". It included a few additional works which were absent in the first. This exhibition and accompanying catalogue were titled "Fantastic and Visionary Art: An Orange Regional Gallery Touring Exhibition." In 2004 the travelling exhibition opened in the regional city of Ballarat in the state of Victoria. Alan Sisley in the catalogue which accompanied this show wrote: "Damian Michaels is indeed an artist of Vision, whose collection, magazine, and eventual museum will surely take their place among the significant art events in this country." (p. 5)
On the Banach Forgeries
has championed a number of artists. Included in their number was the
irrelevant Lukasz Banach. Michaels knew that Banach did not produce
original works, but considered this to be irrelevant. In an email to
him I pointed out that Banach is not a bona fide artist with the
Michaels however had no problem with Banach, as his response which follows, shows.
Tue, 19 Dec 2000 16:03:23 +1100
"Michaels, Damian <Damian.Michaels@justice.vic.gov.au>
Demetrios Vakras <email@example.com>
…Yes, Lukasz Banach takes Beksinski's paintings and combines different
eliments of various Beksinski paintings to make his own. I have spoken to
him about it numerous times. He has just turned 20, he is young, self-taught
and obsessed by his master. He knows and admits he is doing it. Beksinski
himself is in regular contact with Lukasz and occasional contact with me and
Beksinski defends Lukasz any time anyone says anything bad about him. Lukasz
is a great kid and he is simply finding his way that's all. I traded Lukasz
a giant Beksinski book for 7 of his best drawings and have just also bought
a painting from him. I call this his Bek Period. I believe he will be one of
Polands major fantastic artists in as soon as 5-10 years once he finds his
own style and imagery. Beksinski is a great platform for him to have jumped
from. However before I sent Lukasz the Beksinski books, he was doing some
great work which was completely his own... I own many of these early
drawings. The painting I have is two Beksinski paintings created as one
image via Mr. Banach. It was not too pricey and is great to have for the
simple fact that I love the image and could not afford a Beksinski. So
everyone wins, Beksinski and many others support Lukasz because we all see
his potential and encourage him. He will be one of the big Polish names one
day, you'll see. But you are 100% right about his stealing directly from
Beksinski and making no bones about it, no denial there. The article that is
written about Banach will have art that is more of Lukasz's original ideas."
What Michaels' response exposed was an absolute lack of any understanding of why some artists are considered historically important and why others are worthless; for him great art is best demonstrated by a practitioner's ability to mimic the work of an acknowledged master. Sisley considers Michaels to be a "curator" of "vision" even though his actions appear to be more like those of an artist's agent or promoter.
The paintings above are all of Beksinski originals. (This site features the most complete on–line catalogue of Beksinski works.) None of the works are titled. Beksinski's rare comments in which he explains his aversion to using words indicate some form of cognitive retardation:
your own biography is a sign of even greater vainglory than making
declarations like the ones I have written at the request of the makers
of this catalogue." quoted from http://www.belvederegallery.com/artist_more.php?id=2
Below appear some forgeries of Beksinski's images by Banach. They are not exact copies, but can be mistaken as Beksinskis, though Banach lacked the technical skill of his master. Like Beksinski whom he unquestioningly emulated he does not title his works.
Michaels conceded that there was an absence of originality in the works produced by Banach, but included him in his magazine nevertheless. He wrote to me "The article that is written about Banach [for ArtVisionary 3] will have art that is more of Lukasz's original ideas." Below are 2 of these "originals" which are no less Beksinski copies than anything else Banach produced.
Worse still was the article in ArtVisionary 3 written by Poitr Listkiewicz:
One wonders about this "inner eye" which though capable of seeing "beyond the normal range of people's perception" could only see as far as Beksinski.
The inclusion of Banach in the magazine and the inclusion of his works in the 2 Orange Regional Gallery exhibitions seriously diminished the works of artists whose works were also exhibited and diminished the reputation of Sisley - one would have expected greater accademic rigour in the selection of works to be exhibited. Michaels' contribution to art of the imagination, aided by figures such as Sisley has been to diminish any and all practitioners of art of the surreal/fantastic, rendering them instead as absurdities worthy only of ridicule.
Michaels' intentions have been guided by an artistic revisionism in which he intends to promote specifically Christian art which he redefines as "visionary". In the forward to the catalogue for the exhibition "Fantastic and Visionary Art: An Orange Regional Gallery Touring Exhibition" Sisley wrote:
With the death of Beksinski the talentless Banach found himself rudderless and has since changed both his direction and name. He now calls himself "Norman Leto". The success he gained in forging Beksinski, and in finding in Michaels someone willing to buy these forgeries has secured him a page in both the Polish–language and English–language Wikipedia.
According to http://www.belvederegallery.com/artist_more.php?id=4 :
"In 1999 [Banach] decided to drop high school and started working on graphics and painting on his own. He is a self-taught artist. For several months Banach worked for a company which specialised in animation and film production. In 2001, Banach participated in a group exhibition in Melbourne which brought him huge popularity in Australia and first offers to purchase his artwork."
Addenda 10/1202008. Banach was not the only artist who was bereft of his own ideas and took the style and motifs of others that was championed by Michaels. He also championed Alex Grey. Below is a photograph of an article from The Courier, newspaper of Ballarat 23/7/2004 showing the Ballarat Gallery director in front of a work by Grey. The article was the review of the Ballarat opening of the "Fantastic and Visionary Art: An Orange Regional Gallery Touring Exhibition." Alex Grey is dealt with on another page.
Demetrios Vakras 5/12/2008.