The big reveal: why Derren Brown is trying to rob the Chapman brothers
Source:The Guardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2013-12-11 Size:
I wonder who is the greater illusionist: Brown and his troupe of pensioners trying to steal a Chapmans' work in The Great Art Robbery – or the art world itself...

Magic touch? Derren Brown's The Great Art Robbery. Photograph: Seamus Ryan

Is the art world all smoke and mirrors? There are lots of layers of deception in the world of dealers, galleries, collectors and contemporary artists, making this a perfect setting for master of illusion Derren Brown to play his mind games in his new Channel 4 TV special, to be shown on Friday.

  I got a preview and was sworn to secrecy on the show's finer points, but it seems that I can tell you it involves Brown schooling a group of pensioners to steal a painting, without my balls being made to magically disappear.

  To be absolutely honest, I find magic (or illusion) incredibly dull to watch, usually, and I had never seen a Derren Brown show until this one. I had fun, however, trying to see who was conning who.

  The premise of The Great Art Robbery is that Brown is pulling a fast one on the world of contemporary art. He tells a collector that he plans to steal a specific painting at a particular place and time. The only trouble is, the collector is not exactly Charles Saatchi, and the gallery is not exactly White Cube. Brown's intended victim is, in fact, Ivan Massow, whose most famous moment in the art world was being sacked as chairman of the ICA in 2002. Since then he has fallen and risen again in business and accumulated a collection that includes works by Jake and Dinos Chapman. It is one of the Chapmans' vandalised Victorian portraits that Derren Brown set out to steal from Massow. (To be fair, the collector comes across as very nice on telly.)

  As for the venue, it is a pop-up gallery hired by Massow for a charity event. So, while Brown creates one illusion after another – and yes, he cured my aversion to this kind of entertainment – there's one trick he never comes clean about. Or is he the victim of this con?

  This is that we never see the hardcore power brokers of the "art world" at all – it's just the outer circle of that gilded realm which Brown lays bare. Really, what he shows the audience is a pastiche of the London art scene.

  True magicians never give away their secrets. Elite galleries such as Hauser & Wirth are never going to allow themselves to be exposed by a TV illusionist. They have to preserve their mystique.

  The same is true of the Chapman brothers, who never participate in the show, except when they are glimpsed once, from a distance, at a private view.

  The value of their art is a talking point in the show. The trashed antique picture Brown tries to nick is worth many thousands of pounds.

  Well might its "creators" keep in the shadows. Brown is entertaining. But when it comes to real illusions, he is not in the same league as the masters of the art world.

[Editor] 孙雯