Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Fakes and Forgeries Winter 2017

1. NEW YORK - Dealer in Art Fraud Scheme Avoids Prison

The Long Island woman who fooled the art world by pawning off paintings by an unknown artist from Queens as the work of Modernist masters was sentenced to time served on Tuesday, more than five years after her actions helped lead to $80 million in fraudulent sales and the demise of New York’s oldest gallery.

Between 1994 and 2009 prosecutors have said that the woman, Glafira Rosales, a little-known art dealer on Long Island, and her boyfriend came up with 60 pieces that they marketed as previously unknown works by artists including Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. In fact, they had all been created by a Chinese immigrant who used a garage in Queens as his studio.

In her sentencing, the judge, Katherine Polk Failla of Federal District Court in Manhattan, cited defense arguments that Ms. Rosales had been intimidated and abused by her former boyfriend, who is also charged in the case and whom the defense described in court papers as the mastermind of the scheme. She also feared being separated from her daughter, according to the defense.

“Ms. Rosales, I’m not putting you back in jail,” Judge Failla said.

Ms. Rosales, 60, had served three months in jail. She will be subject to three years of supervised release including 90 days of home detention, the judge said. She will also pay restitution in an amount to be determined. Her boyfriend, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, was arrested in 2014 in Spain but his extradition has been blocked.

During the audacious fraud, which spanned 15 years, Ms. Rosales sold the bogus works to galleries in Manhattan, including the venerable Knoedler & Company on the Upper East Side. When the scheme came to light, experts agreed that it was the largest art fraud in modern memory.

Knoedler, founded in 1846, went out of business just ahead of lawsuits by prominent collectors over the fakes. In 2013 Ms. Rosales pleaded guilty to nine counts of conspiracy, fraud and other crimes. Knoedler has said it never realized the works were fake.

In the case of Ms. Rosales, the sentencing guidelines, which take into account the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history, had suggested a prison term of 151 to 181 months. But her lawyer, Bryan C. Skarlatos, asked for leniency, saying Mr. Bergantiños Diaz had coerced Ms. Rosales into assisting him.

“He hit her,” Mr. Skarlatos told the judge. “He broke her nose, he left scars on her body.”

A prosecutor, Patrick Egan, did not object to the request for time served, saying Ms. Rosales had provided “instrumental” evidence, telling investigators how the fraudulent paintings had been made, where they had been made, what fake stories had been used to sell them and how those tales had originated.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Bergantiños Diaz, met and befriended the forger, Pei-Shen Qian in the 1980s as he was painting on the streets. Mr. Qian mimicked the varied styles and forged the various names of the Abstract Expressionists he copied and Mr. Bergantiños Diaz treated the works to give them the false patina of age. The artist, who has also been charged, fled to China. He has insisted he did not realize his work was being passed off as original.

Ms. Rosales told galleries that the works came from a mystery collector who wished to remain anonymous, and her story and the artworks were embraced to an extent that illustrated how vulnerable the art market could be to any sophisticated fraud.

The most rigorous examination of flaws in the authentication process came last year during the trial in a lawsuit filed by Domenico De Sole, the chairman of Sotheby’s, and his wife Eleanore, who had bought a forged Rothko from Knoedler for $8.3 million.

The witnesses included a parade of experts, including some who said that the gallery had misrepresented their opinions of certain works. Christopher Rothko, the artist’s son, said his name had inaccurately been included on a list of experts who had viewed the bogus work. And before the extent of the forgeries became clear, some experts endorsed the fake paintings while receiving undisclosed consulting fees from Knoedler. Others denied authenticating bogus works but nonetheless acknowledged they had expressed enthusiasm for them.

The suit against Knoedler was settled for an undisclosed amount just as the gallery’s former owner and president were set to testify.


2. KANSAS CITY - Museum Rewards Donor with Fake Art to Hang at Home

A collector gave Matisse and Manet originals to the Nelson-Atkins Museum and got souvenir copies to keep his walls from ‘getting lonely’

After Kansas City, Mo., collector Henry Bloch donated an enviable group of impressionist artworks to the city’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the museum returned the favor, sort of.

The museum printed digital copies of each of Mr. Bloch’s 29 paintings—including examples by Edouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse—and delivered the framed replicas to his home two months ago so he could hang them in the exact same spots as the originals. Mr. Bloch, co-founder of tax-return preparer H&R Block, said the copies are so realistic, he has to peer closely to discern the differences. “Every museum should be offering this service,” he said.

Art forgers aren’t the only ones using technology to produce ever-more-convincing fake paintings. Museums, in a rarely discussed practice, are churning them out as thank-you gifts to major donors. Curators say it’s mostly a taboo topic because the recipients don’t always like to admit they’ve got a glorified poster hanging in the place of a masterpiece, but Sotheby’s said auction houses have long gifted their major consignors with framed copies of big-ticket items.

Julian Zugazagoitia, CEO and director of the Nelson-Atkins, said he initially considered the Bloch copies to be a fluky one-off, a gesture that could allow the museum to display Mr. Bloch’s art as part of its permanent collection when it reopens its renovated European art galleries March 11. Otherwise, it would have had to wait for the works to be given in a promised bequest as part of the 94-year-old collector’s estate. (Mr. Bloch’s foundation paid $12.7 million for the renovation.)

Yet as word spread of the museum’s unconventional offer, the director said his own trustees started reaching out, seeking prints for their art holdings. The director said going public about the potential perk could elicit gifts while donors are still alive. “The offer is becoming part of my tool kit now,” Mr. Zugazagoitia said.

Mr. Zugazagoitia said he is aware that such swapping could undermine one of the intangible factors that fuel an artwork’s value, namely the evidence of the artist’s own handiwork or at least the artist’s legitimizing involvement. The museum itself will continue to display only original works, not copies. “We still believe in the aura of artists’ works,” he said. “People who come here need to see the originals.”

The museum’s knockoffs are designed to look real—but only from the front so as not to dupe anyone long-term, said Steve Waterman, the museum’s director of design and experience. The fake canvases lack telltale brush strokes, and the backs of their frames lack gallery labels and other notations that appraisers and authenticators typically use to determine a work’s legitimacy.


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