April Fools: 5 Surprising Art Hoaxes Long Before Anna Delvey Came Along

No Fake German Heiress Here

You’ve probably heard about Anna Delvey by now. Y’know, the very fake German heiress with the weird accent who tricked a bunch of people into thinking she was creating the greatest art gallery in the history of art. There’s a Netflix show and everything.

But she is far from the first oddball to pull one over on the art world. Famous artists and fictional people have been perpetrating bizarre art hoaxes throughout history. In honor of April Fools’ Day, here are five of our favorite frauds.

1. “Time” Bomb

Art Hoax Warhol Art

Over the last few years of his life, Andy Warhol created hundreds of “Time Capsules,” in which he packed up the contents of his desk each day for posterity (or his own amusement). But on April Fools’ Day in 1978, he instead packed up the contents from a nearby shoe repairman’s desk—random junk like birthday cards and receipts. Thirty years later, the Andy Warhol Museum discovered his prank when they opened the capsule. Classic Andy.

2. Nat Tate

Nat Tate was an abstract expressionist who destroyed 99 percent of his own work and, tragically, leaped from the Staten Island Ferry to his death. Also, he never existed!

With help from the likes of Gore Vidal and David Bowie, author William Boyd invented Nat Tate (named for the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and Britain’s Tate Gallery) in a faux biography published in 1998. Tate enjoyed a week of faux-posthumous fame until the secret got out. Even still, one of “his” paintings (actually by Boyd) sold in 2011 for nearly $11,000.

3. Pierre Brassau

“Brassau paints with powerful strokes…Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.” So wrote one art critic in 1964 after a much-lauded exhibition by French avant-garde artist Pierre Brassau. Except Pierre was a chimpanzee named Peter, and the whole thing was a journalist’s ruse to see whether fancy art critics could tell they were looking at ape paintings.

4. Disumbrationism

When art critics in 1924 pooh-poohed his wife’s paintings as “too realistic,” Los Angeles-based writer Paul Jordan-Smith decided to get even. In retaliation, the world’s best husband slapped together some goofy-looking paintings, invented the Disumbrationist School of Art, and watched the praise roll in from clueless art critics.

5. Michelangelo’s Cupid

Art Hoax Cupid

In the 1490s, a young Michelangelo sculpted a sleeping cupid and then had it buried in acidic dirt. That gave the brand-new piece the look of a very old piece, which he then sold to a cardinal for big bucks (or florins, or whatever). When the cardinal realized the fakery, he demanded his money back, but he was so impressed by the young Michelangelo’s talent that he didn’t press charges.

Find More Fun

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Image credits: Lead photo by Jené Stephaniuk on Unsplash; Warhol photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash; Cupid photo by Gigi on Unsplash