August 15, 2013

Art forger exploited

The forger of this fake Rothko only received
about 1/1,000th of the $8.3 million it sold for
Forgery is the most intellectually interesting aspect of modern art, so back in May I posted on the hilarious case of the huge scandal that took down the prestigious Knoedler gallery in Manhattan. Now, a few details about the gifted forger have surfaced:
For 15 years, some of the art world’s most established dealers and experts rhapsodized about dozens of newly discovered masterworks by titans of Modernism. Elite buyers paid up to $17 million to own just one of these canvases, said to have been created by the hands of artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell.

But federal prosecutors say that most, if not all, of the 63 ballyhooed works — which fetched more than $80 million in sales — were painted in a home and garage in Queens by one unusually talented but unknown artist who was paid only a few thousand dollars apiece for his handiworks. 
Authorities did not name or charge the painter and provided few identifying details except to say he had trained at a Manhattan art school in a variety of disciplines including painting, drawing and lithography. He was selling his work on the streets of New York in the early 1990s, they said, when he was spotted by a Chelsea art dealer who helped convert his work into one of the most audacious art frauds in recent memory.

It sounds like the poor forger got less than 1% of the proceeds, while the middle-woman that discovered him made $12.5 million and the two galleries made much more than that. 

That's the real scandal. In the art forgery business, it's obviously not what you know, it's who you know.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Also sounds like the artist is going to get a slap on the wrist at worst, and the middle-woman is going to go down hard.

Big Bill said...

I followed your link. The forger was prosecuted by US Attorney Preet Bharara.

"Preet Bharara"?

"Preet"?

I have a good basic rule for immigration and border entry.

If you cannot instantly tell the gender of someone from their name, they don't get to immigrate.

If you cannot instantly tell whether their name is even a name they don't get to visit.

It is a good measure of (1) how alien their culture is and (2) how willing they are to assimilate

Jokah Macpherson said...

Just like in Back to Blood.

ffeered 5 said...

In the movie 'Quiz Show' Mark Van Doren wonders what all the fuss is about. 'Isn't cheating on a quiz show like plagiarizing a comic book?' he asks.

Of course now we know that comic books are real art.

Then again could someone come up with isteve.wordpress.com?

fish said...

Authorities did not name or charge the painter and provided few identifying details except to say he had trained at an art school in a variety of disciplines including painting, drawing and lithography.... where you can be admitted if you can successfully draw the cartoon mouse found towards the back of the Popular Mechanics magazine.

Anonymous said...

http://patdollard.com/2013/08/fbi-blacks-40-times-more-likely-to-assault-whites-than-the-reverse/

Anonymous said...

Art forgery is a victimless crime. It's not like a rich person who buys a fake Rothko is making an investment for his retirement; he's trying to impress his rich friends, who won't know the difference. And if one day the rich person goes bankrupt, it's the IRS that gets stuck with the fake.

As Honore Balzac said,"Behind every great fortune there is a crime." So when a rich man gets screwed, he probably deserves it. Especially if he collects low information density art forms that are easy to copy. Forging luxury goods should be a misdemeanor in my opinion.

Oh, by the way, not long after Steve wrote that bit about Sears and Vincent Price collaborating to sell fine art by recognized artists back in the sixties, now Amazon is attempting to do a similar thing.

http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=6685269011

Needless to say the featured artists are not Picasso, Rothko, or Rembrandt.

Anonymous said...

he had trained at a Manhattan art school bet you it was the art student's league - where Rockwell, Pollack, etc studied

"Chelsea art dealer' hmm is that like 'attack by youths' ?

Z said...

This is not a new trick. Han van Meegeren did something similar in the 1930's. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3654259/The-forger-who-fooled-the-world.html

james wilson said...

As far as I am concerned, the money all went to more rational hands. No harm done.

Anonymous said...

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi

Interesting book on art forgery.

jody said...

the people who forged that birth certificate for obama did not have half as much skill as this guy.

Auntie Analogue said...


Lucky for the forger that he didn't forge a pyramid and have the whole Moslem World after his hide.

Fernandinande said...

Hilarious caption on picture spilled paint: How imitations of the most heralded Abstract Expressionists by a complete unknown could have fooled connoisseurs and clients remains a mystery.

It's only a mystery to the "connoisseurs" and clients, who don't seem to realize that garbage and jokes are garbage and jokes regardless of who made them because they're not really buying "art", they're buying names to impress other fools.

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

Rothko cult is totally bogus. A sane art world would not be paying millions for such paintings which really should be called smudges.

Btw, why not fake art when so much of reality is faked by Liberal control of media. This is how Libs see reality:

http://chikaoduahblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/tale-of-two-hoodies.jpg

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

No fan of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, but they did some interesting, striking work.

Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell were the woist... until Warhol and Basquiat-case came along.
But now there's even worster.

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

There's a strange parallel between what goes on in the art world and what goes on in the real world. This may seem counter-intuitive since the art world seems to exist in its own bubble/cocoon and have nothing to do with or say about the world we live in. In other words, most people don't care about contemporary art, and most contemporary artists don't make 'popular culture' stuff or relate to most of us.

But what both worlds have in common is how so many of the 'values' and perceptions are molded by a few. So, if cultural elites in the art world says a pile of dung is art, gee, maybe it is art and worth millions of dollars that it went for at an auction.
Likewise, if the media elite say that Zimmerman is a 'white guy', gee, maybe he is a white guy. If the Nobel Committee says Obama deserves to win the Peace Prize because he MIGHT promote peace, gee, maybe that makes great sense.
And if the much respected Andrew O'Hehir says Sean Hannity destroyed Detroit, maybe it's true!!
Israel with 300 nukes has so much to fear from Iran with none!!
Abstract News is alive and well and has very high market value. Who needs reality when fake reality has higher market value in the media. Try increasing your value in the media by telling the truth. Your market value will plummet like Rick Sanchez's.

Harry Baldwin said...

One of my favorite art stories was in the New York Times (January 22, 1985):

IT WAS PAINTED BY DE KOONING, AND IT MAY BE VALUABLE - BUT IS IT ART?

BRIDGEHAMPTON, L.I., Jan. 19— An outhouse seat that once served a Victorian home here could become an artistic treasure and a gold mine.

The three-hole seat, which was used for years behind a Civil War-era house on the north side of Main Street, was sold at auction in November for $50.

Then, last month, Elaine de Kooning wrote a one-paragraph letter authenticating the 99-inch by 22-inch seat as an unsigned work by her husband, Willem de Kooning, the artist.

In an interview, Mrs. de Kooning said that 30 years ago her husband, some of whose canvases have brought more than $2 million, painted the seat "in a few minutes" for the occasion of a croquet party. It was an attempt to make the wood look like marble and disguise its plebeian past.

Now, the owners of the red, white and black toilet seat, which has been hung temporarily in a Bridgehampton artist's studio, are preparing to sell it as a masterwork. This has sparked debate in the local art community on how to define art and on whether anything touched by an acknowledged master's brush can be considered art. . . .

The toilet seat is painted with exterior house paint. The area around each hole is red and the covers are white. The white is streaked by black strokes of varying texture. The stripes culminate in angry globs of black paint reminiscent of the style used by Jackson Pollock, who frequently visited the de Koonings.

John MacWhinnie, a painter and friend of Mr. de Kooning . . . said the seat was a good example of the style that marked Mr. de Kooning's work in the early 1950's.

"It's a youthful, exuberant example of the painter at the height of his abstract expressionism. . . In spite of itself, it became art, simply out of a choice that de Kooning made," Mr. MacWhinnie added. He noted that canvases painted by Mr. de Kooning during that period have sold for more than $1 million.

Mrs. de Kooning, also a noted painter, said she was upset that her authentication had been made public and that the toilet seat was going to be sold as art.

"It was done as a joke to marbleize the wood," she said. "It was done very fast in a spirit of merriment that prevailed at the time. To term this painting is ridiculous. . . . "

But Mr. MacWhinnie compared the toilet seat to a urinal that the artist Marcel Duchamp made into a sculpture in 1917. Mr. Duchamp turned the urinal upside down, signed it "R. Mutt" and titled it "The Fountain." The piece, now considered a masterwork, was his way of objecting to what he called the "monetarization" of art and the tendency to turn art into precious objects.

"De Kooning's talent was such that no matter how seriously or unseriously he took his painting, it came out in high quality," Mr. MacWhinnie said. "He couldn't help but paint well."

[NOTE: When the toilet seat was put up for auction in 1992 it garnered only $7,500, which makes the story a little less funny than it might have been.]

Anonymous said...

Why not just call art 'mart'?

PS. Great art has value even as forgery because even if it has no monetary value, it has value in something worth looking at. Thus, even a forgery of Mona Lisa will do nicely, at least to the eyes.

But bad art with a high price tag has no value as forgery since it's an eyesore to begin with and its value has been judged by something on other than aesthetic judgement.

IA said...

The takeaway line in the article was its head scratching as to why no one noticed that these paintings were obvious forgeries. Could the NYT be into drollery?

The dealers who made out didn't want to know that's why. When you have a market that deals in religious reliquaries I'm surprised there aren't more such shennigans. No one wants to know that a totem image is illegitimate. Not the museums and the curatoriat who sanctify these talismans of emptiness and irony. Not the writers who wave their magic wands of words to bewitch and mystify. Not the rich who pay for them. And certainly not the middle men, or it seems in this case, women.

The only persons interested in finding fakes would be the artist being used. But, being dead, most won't make much of a bother.

peterike said...

Hmmm. If you've created a forgery of something that was all along a fraud, is it really a crime? Or are you just, in a sense, speaking truth to power?

I have to ponder this over some fine wine. Hopefully, not forged wine, as wine fraud is also quite rampant.

Indeed, as the unwashed Asian and Arab masses continue to flood into America, fraud of all kinds will explode. For some reason, the Mestizos don't seem too into fraud, other than the usual easy EBT scamming. But hell, that's not only expected, it's encouraged.

forgetful film fan said...

OT (sorry), but picking up the recent "The Last Film In Which" thread, there was a flamboyantly gay antagonist in "Zoolander". I know this kind of film doesn't count in any meaningful way, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Branching out slightly, the last mainstream Hollywood film with a genuine black villain? My internal monologue is saying "Witness", although I have a feeling I'm missing something obvious from more recently (and even in Witness the black bad guy was a stooge of a whitebread Mr Big).

Last mainstream Hollywood film with a genuine Jewish villain? Harder, although the surprisingly obvious answer may be "Aliens". At least, Paul Reiser certainly doesn't make any effort not to make the Burke character come across as heavily Jewish (and his wheedling, double-dealing, murderous villainy is even more of an odiousnoxiouscanard than any baser, more venal villainy).

More ground to be explore here perhaps.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he forged any real art. I am thinking along the lines of William-Adolphe Bouguereau or John Singer Sergeant.


Anonymous said...

Consider who has $8 million to blow on a hideous piece of crap "masterpiece" of art.

Say, oh, maybe a Zuckerburg or other person who employs a lot of people. Now these folks don't want to pay their workers more because then they keep more profits. Okay, but then they blow the money that they didn't want to go to people doing real work and instead give it to an "artist" who paints crap or even worse a dealer who peddles crap. It is just pure status mongering and they are like adherents to a religion of insanity that call this junk "art".

I like what Steve calls it: self parody.

Paul Mendez said...

Also sounds like the artist is going to get a slap on the wrist at worst, and the middle-woman is going to go down hard.

Did the artist commit a crime at all?

Creating an original painting in the style of another (famous) artist is not against the law. Art students do it all the time. It's not like counterfeiting money. The artist was not deceiving his client, Sra. Rosales, when he sold it to her -- she knew it was a fake.

The government would have to prove that the artist knew that his fake was going to be used to defraud someone. He could always claim he just thought that Sra. Rosales loved Modernist paintings, but could not afford the real thing.

I've always thought it would be fun to forge the autographs of famous people. Then buy a cheap, used desk. Leave the forgeries inside the desk's drawer, and put the desk on sale for some ridiculous sum at a flea market. See if anyone pretends not to notice the forgeries, and buys the desk at your asking price.

David said...

Gubbler 11:17 AM

Great comment.

Every time art forgery comes up here, someone (sometimes me) recommends Orson Welles' "F for Fake," so I'll recommend it now.

David Davenport said...

Creating an original painting in the style of another (famous) artist is not against the law. Art students do it all the time. It's not like counterfeiting money. The artist was not deceiving his client, Sra. Rosales, when he sold it to her -- she knew it was a fake.

That's a good business idea. Start cranking out original imitation Rothkos, Pollocks, etc., and sell 'em on Amazon.

"Tribute paintings by contemporary artists channeling the modern masters of Abstract Expression."

Also, for only a slightly higher price, offer bespoke Modern Masters Tributes to harmonize with the colors of the buyer's sofa and carpet.

////

Otto Dix's painting, The Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim ( scroll down a little )

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, the legal issues involving who is culpable in art fraud are sometimes pretty interesting philosophical conundrums.

I imagine one legal question will be: who added a forgery of Mark Rothko's signature on the back.

Anonymous said...

*That's a good business idea. Start cranking out original imitation Rothkos, Pollocks, etc., and sell 'em on Amazon.*

Yeah, that industry has existed for a long time.

http://www.bing.com/search?setmkt=en-US&q=art+reproductions

(Also, that website is a reproduction of another website.)

IA said...

Steve, I heard that towards the end of his life Salvador Dali sold his signature on blank sheets of paper for about $10 ea.

So, don't buy any Dali prints that seem aliitle too cheap.

Eric Rasmusen said...

It sounds as if the artist was selling his paintings at about the market price for good imitations. That would make it hard to have evidence that he was committing a crime. So he was smart to not be greedy. And he raises an interesting ethical question: he himself did nothing morally wrong, but was he duty-bound to turn in his fraud-committing customer?

Anonymous said...

An economist ought to love this story, since it proves the point that value is always relative. And that the rich are stupid at everything except making money.

David said...

>I imagine one legal question will be: who added a forgery of Mark Rothko's signature on the back.<

Exactly. In the eyes of the law, it isn't fraud if you don't sign it or represent it improperly in general. Maybe the poor artist is innocent (doubtful).

A person could paint a bunch of fakes, refrain from putting a signature on them, claim that they were stolen, pay a dealer to open an account with ... uh, anyway, it's a deplorable scam, isn't it?

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

"the Mestizos don't seem too into fraud, other than the usual easy EBT scamming."

It led to massive citizenship forgery.

American citizenship used to be a solid piece of legal document. It had real value.
With looming amnesty, just about ANYONE is a citizen, in which case even citizenship has been rendered into a forgery.

Anonymous said...


"American citizenship used to be a solid piece of legal document. It had real value.
With looming amnesty, just about ANYONE is a citizen, in which case even citizenship has been rendered into a forgery."


Indeed.

And being a citizen got you the protection of your fellow citizens. The proposition nation has a serious military.

But when everyone is a citizen, then no one is, and we go back to tribalism.

Bon courage.

Anonymous said...

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201308190010


We had the boat people in the 70s.

Now brace for the goat people.

Anonymous said...

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/18/cia_admits_it_was_behind_irans_coup

"TPAJAX was the CIA's codename for the overthrow plot, which relied on local collaborators at every stage. It consisted of several steps: using propaganda to undermine Mossadegh politically, inducing the Shah to cooperate, bribing members of parliament, organizing the security forces, and ginning up public demonstrations. The initial attempt actually failed, but after a mad scramble the coup forces pulled themselves together and came through on their second try, on August 19."

What US now tries to do to Russia over 'gay stuff'.

We've sure come a long way. Now, we use outright military force to change things in places like Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.

PS. When will US confess to its role in the massive ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians?