60 Minutes Reports on the Knoedler art fraud scandal

This forged work forgot to spell Jackson Pollock's last name with a 'c'
This forged work forgot to spell Jackson Pollock’s last name with a ‘c’

In case you haven’t seen it yet, 60 minutes examined the rapid fall of the Knoedler Art Gallery in 2011. The piece does a thorough job of giving background on the Knoedler Gallery, the role of the Cataloge Raisonne, and scientific testing.

I found particularly interesting this exchange between Anderson Cooper, and Domenico de Sole, one of the collectors, and the chairman of Sotheby’s which underscores the role of reputation and trust in the art market:

Anderson Cooper: Do you feel you did enough due diligence as a buyer?

Domenico de Sole: My due diligence was to go to the best, most prominent gallery in the United States dealing with a person with a stellar reputation, and pay a price that was reasonable, it was fair.

Domenico de Sole was the person who bought that $8 million fake Mark Rothko and told us he believes Knoedler Gallery and its President Ann Freedman either knew or should have known that this lucrative collection could not possibly be genuine. Greg Clarick is his attorney.

Greg Clarick: The red flags began with the notion that Glafira Rosales, who was an unknown person to Knoedler, who Knoedler never investigated, came in and she started delivering what turned out to be an endless stream of never-before-seen paintings was enough to raise a huge red flag.

Anderson Cooper: Strangers don’t walk off the street into a gallery saying that they have access to a never-before-seen collection of some of the greatest masterpieces

Greg Clarick: That’s right. Second, the works had no provenance.

Anderson Cooper: No chain, no history?

Greg Clarick: They had no history. They had no documents.

Anderson Cooper: So there was no evidence these paintings had ever been painted by the artists?

Greg Clarick: That’s correct.

Not only that, there were no bills of sale, no insurance records, no shipping documents, and no museum exhibitions for any of the paintings. Greg Clarick told us the gallery had motivation to overlook the paintings’ shortcomings.

Greg Clarick: Over the period of this fraud, Knoedler sold these paintings for about $67 million. Knoedler made over $40 million in profit from selling these paintings. And at the same time, Knoedler made essentially no money at all from selling other paintings.

New York Lawsuit shows due diligence pays, as much as $5m

The Shiva bronze statue which the National Gallery of Australia purchased in 2008 for $5 million
The Shiva bronze statue which the National Gallery of Australia purchased in 2008 for $5 million

A lawsuit filed in New York State court last week could provide one of the strongest disincentives yet to dealing in looted cultural objects. Subhash Kapoor‘s gallery in New York, Art of the Past, has been sued for a laundry list of private law violations; including “fraud, rescission, unjust enrichment, contractual indemnity, and breach of contract” based on the sale of this bronze statue known as Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja). The plaintiff is the Australian gallery which purchased this work in 2008.

This lawsuit is exactly what should happen when a purchaser with clean hands purchases a work of art from a dealer who knew that a work of art was looted or stolen. I’ve argued before that acquisitions like this defraud the legitimate trade in works of art, and also corrupt our understanding of history.

Chasing Aphrodite asks:

The NGA lawsuit, to our knowledge, is unprecedented. American museums and private collectors have returned hundreds of looted objects to Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Cambodia and other countries in recent years. In nearly all those cases, dealers had provided standard warranties guaranteeing good title to the objects. And yet not one museum or collector had filed a similar lawsuit…that we know of.

 

So why haven’t lawsuits like this occurred with more regularity? Here’s why I think they have been rare. They should be happening every time looted art is repatriated.  As any first year law student learns, if someone sells you stolen property, every legal system allows you to bring an action against the launderer of stolen property. But this has not happened in the antiquities trade for a couple reasons. First, many curators and museum officials had too much knowledge of the illicitness of objects they were acquiring. A lawsuit like this would have embarrased institutions like the Getty or the Met or the MFA in Boston by raising uncomfortable question about what due diligence was taken before an acquisition. In this case, it seems as if the National Gallery of Australia is comfortable in defending its due diligence procedures to a court. The NGA alleges in its complaint that it undertook due diligence procedures, while also relying on the warranties given by Art of the Past. But the NGA asked the Art loss register if the statue was stolen, examined letters from the previous owner of the statue, consulted the ‘Tamil Nadu Police website’, checked the records produced by the Archaeological Survey of India, and finally consulted with a bronze expert in India who supported the acquisition.

Perhaps another reason that a suit like this is unique, is the secret nature of the art trade itself. Buyers and sellers are anonymous. But that is changing. When you can trace the path of material through the various purchasers, the market for illicit material shrinks. And that is a very good thing, and why we should all watch this suit in New York closely.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF AUSTRALIA v. ART OF THE PAST INC, Docket No. 650395/2014 (N.Y. Sup Ct. Feb. 06, 2014)

Forger Ken Perenyi on NPR

After John F. Herring by Ken Perenyi, circa 1989.
A genuine fake painting by Ken Perenyi
Ken Perenyi, the author of a new book detailing his 30-year career as an art forger does not exactly seem to have reformed. If you are going to forge, don’t forge Picasso, and the experts practically fool themselves.

Perenyi made millions of dollars over 30 years with more than 1,000 forgeries, allowing him to jet set around the world. His highest earning work was a Martin Johnson Heade forgery that sold for more than $700,000. Perenyi tells the story of how he got away with it in his new book, Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger. So does he hold on to guilt about duping individuals, museums and galleries who paid top dollar for his work? “No. Not at all,” Perenyi tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered. “I take pride in my work, and I think it speaks for itself. I would find it difficult to feel bad about creating beautiful paintings.”

  1. “A Contest Of Wits”: A Former Forger Recalls His Art, NPR.org (2012), http://www.npr.org/2012/08/26/159369271/a-contest-of-wits-a-former-forger-recalls-his-art.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Speaking out about fakes

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, Robert Motherwell 1971 

Jack Flam, currently working on a catalogue raisonné of Robert Motherwell talks about the backwards incentives by members of the public and scholars when it comes to authenticating art. Highly recommended, it puts all the discussion of fakes and forgeries in the context of what experts and the market are not doing to prevent fakes from polluting the pool of art in private collections and in the public trust:

These market circumstances have unfortunately coincided with a situation in which scholars and foundations that make decisions about authenticity feel increasingly constrained by legal threats from people who own or are selling fakes. So while the number of fakes in the marketplace is dramatically increasing, an important means for assuring the veracity of artists’ works has been disappearing. Several scholars and foundations are ceasing to authenticate works because they are afraid of lawsuits, and such fears have even constrained the way scholars communicate with each other.
Back in 2008, after the Motherwell catalogue raisonné project suspected that a number of “Spanish Elegy” paintings were forgeries, I had ample occasion to observe how pressure can be effectively put on scholars who believe a painting is inauthentic in order to constrain them from saying so publicly. When I contacted scholars who were engaged in research on some of the other artists whose works were supposed to be in Rosales’s collection, many declined to discuss their opinions about those works; and the ones who did so usually insisted on speaking off the record.
It was not until injured parties came forward—that is, people who had spent significant amounts of money on works that did not pass the scrutiny of either connoisseurship or forensic testing—and the press picked up the story that scholars became (cautiously) more open about what they thought of those works.

  1. Jack Flam, Break the silence over fakes, The Art Newspaper, April 12, 2012, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Break-the-silence-over-fakes/26124 .
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Footnotes

“Le Marché” 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Forgery Ring Discovered in Italy

The BBC and ANSA are reporting that a forged art ring has been discovered by authorities after an 18 month investigation.  The investigation was conducted by monitoring payment transfers and consulting art historians.  Works recovered include forgeries of works by Matisse and Magritte.  There are more than 500 counterfeit works, which may have cost buyers close to 9 million euros. 

  1. Italy seizes counterfeit artwork, BBC, August 25, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11088475 (last visited Aug 25, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More Fraud in the Art Trade

I’m just catching up to the indictment of a San Francisco art dealer, Pasquale Iannetti who was indicted in August on charges of wire and mail fraud for selling counterfeit works by Joan Miró. The indictment alleges Iannette acquired counterfeit prints, know they were fakes, and then duped customers into believing they were authentic. Pictured above is The Tilled Field, an authentic work, on display at the Guggenheim. 

It is a great thing that this smuggling ring has been uncovered, but there was a detailed and difficult investigation.  It seems Iannetti had connections to a larger fraud network with connections in not only San Francisco, but Illinios, Florida and New York.  Part of the investigation involved U.S. postal inspectors who flew to Italy to secretly record a meeting with an alleged supplier, and used invisible ink to mark the suspected fakes in New York, and posed as buyers.  Can the art trade do more to reform its own practices

Department of Justice Press Release

S.F. dealer accused of selling fake Miró prints [SF Chronicle]

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com