It has been an incredible year for art scandals but despite the deception the art market has grown a wapping 20%, with revenues exceeding $15.4 billion (£9.8 billion). which just goes to show that collectors and institutions are not only interested in buying the best but seek to buy works of art with an iron clad provenance.
The scandal involving the Knoedler Gallery in NY, came to a head in 2014 with the 165 year old gallery’s name being dragged through the mud yet again. Over 40 counterfeit paintings were sold through the prestigious gallery. The case involved the sale of over $80 million dollars worth of fraudulent Abstract Expressionist work, which included names like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. The scam has led to several civil lawsuits, from the clients who purchased the paintings. Knoedler & Company, the oldest commercial gallery in New York closed its doors forever in 2012, as a result of the scandal. The former director of Knoedler Ann Freedman has denied any wrongdoing in all cases of the sale of forgeries to any of the collectors involved. The former Director said she would “vigorously defend the lawsuit and the allegations are baseless.” Ms Freedman has now set up on her own as an independent art dealer. It is incredible how oblivious some dealers are to their reputation. Even if Ms Freedman were completely unaware of the fraudulent artworks sold under her leadership at Knoedlers her judgement will always come into question in an industry driven by taste and trust.
Glafira Rosales, 57 the art dealer who brokered the deal by selling the works to Knoedler confessed to the sale of 63 counterfeit works of art, sold over a twenty year period. Rosales of Sands Point NY, pleaded guilty to nine charges including tax fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. She has agreed to adjust her personal tax returns for the period 2006 through 2011 and pay back taxes along with a list of other penalties. Rosales must also forfeit $33 million from property investments used to launder the funds and pay restitution to the victims of the crime. Her accomplice was Chinese master forger, 73-year-old Pei-Shen Qian, who returned to his native China and wont be prosecuted in the case. Rosales was due to be sentenced in March but sentencing was postponed until September, because of a secret document that was filed with Manhattan federal court on March 14. At writing she has yet to be sentanced.
Oliver Wick of the Fondation Beyeler Museum in Switzerland, a curator who is considered to be one of the worlds authorities on Rothko also found himself caught up in the Knoedler scandal. He was paid $300,000 by the gallery to authenticate a work by Rothko. According to court documents, it is alleged that Wick “was aware of substantial evidence that the painting was a forgery.” “Wick did not conduct an independent search into the provenance of the Rothko.” In other documents Wick wrote; “I confirm that this work has been submitted to the team, all is perfectly fine, otherwise I would not want to be involved with it.”
Fakes were also in the headlines with the artists Basquiat, Warhol and Lichtenstein and despite the problem growing, we have seen the closing of three of the leading authentication boards, dealing with these artists’ catalogue raisonnes. This was due to the fear of costly litigation from angry collectors over the boards’ authentication decisions involving individual works.
2014 also saw the American artist Jasper Johns embroiled in not one but two serious court battles. The octogenarian not only testified against New York foundry owner, Brian Ramnarine in a case where the bronze worker created unauthorised flag sculptures, made using the original moulds which he tried to sell for $11 million. Ramnarine was found guilty on three counts of wire fraud in a Manhattan federal court and sentenced to two years in prison. Johns was also imersed in another case this year where his loyal studio assistant James Meyer had stolen up to $6.5m worth of drawings and paintings from the artist’s archives. Most were sold through a New York gallery, who were convinced that they had been gifted to the assistant. Prosecutor Preet Bharara revealed in a statement. “James Meyer made millions by stealing and selling the valuable artworks that he was entrusted with maintaining,” stated the “With his guilty plea today, Meyer will now have to pay for that decision.” Last August, after more than a year of negotiation with the U.S. Attorney’s office, James Meyer put in a guilty plea. He agreed to pay back nearly $4 million,which amounted to $600,000 more than what he is said to have been payed from the sale of the artworks. A court date for 10 December was set for sentencing but at this writing, it has still not taken place.