I don’t know if you followed the strange story of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi a while back, but the short version, as told in Ben Lewis’ book The Last Leonardo, is pretty simple. The art business might be classy and filled with elegance and learning, but a subsection of it is incredibly dodgy. Big ticket paintings are amongst the most valuable things on planet Earth, and thus wonky paintings get smoothed out into something sellable, inconvenient facts get forgotten, and before you know it a painting that once sold for under 100 pounds is suddenly valued in the hundreds of millions – and then it disappears, owner unknown, location only guessed at.
I didn’t think Animal Crossing would be the game to bring all this into focus, but maybe it makes sense. Redd has appeared in my village, and he’s a wonderfully untrustworthy presence. This fox deals in art, but he’s not a slick South Ken operator. Instead he parks his boat, which puffs gritty black smoke into the blue Animal Crossing sky, behind my island. I go in, and it’s dark inside. I can’t really get a close look at the works on offer. Botticelli’s Venus – or is it? – is for sale alongside a fragrance diffuser and a battered microwave, all set up on plastic tubs for my perusal. Redd has a scrappy invoice pad on a nearby table, alongside empty bowls and used chopsticks. I can look at stuff but not too close, and Redd half-heartedly flings in a little art world lingo alongside his sales patter.
Yesterday I bought a fake of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. The original is so delicate it has to be stored out of sight, and those who are able to actually get close to it often marvel at the fact that you can still see the puncture mark Leonardo made with his compasses when he drew the circle. Mine has a coffee stain on it – maybe a reference to the way forgers stain new paper to look like old paper – and I’m pretty sure Blathers is going to have bad news for me about it.