Friday, 16 August 2013

ART FRAUD

"What is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?"
                                                            -- Bertolt Brecht

This morning's newspapers bring the fun story of a massive art fraud, in which 63 "newly discovered" masterpieces by the greatest abstract expressionist painters (Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock, Motherwell) turned out to be forgeries, painted by a local artist in his garage.

fake Jackson Pollock

The paintings were sold over a 15 year period by prestigious art galleries for more than $80 million. 

The New York Times reports, "How imitations of the most heralded Abstract Expressionists by a complete unknown could have fooled connoisseurs and clients remains a mystery."  No it doesn't.  Not in the least.

See if you can spot the worst fraudsters in this food chain:  The painter who created the fakes first attempted to earn a living selling his own work on the streets of New York, but ultimately turned to painting masterpieces instead.  He was paid $5,000 to $7,000 for each painting.  His fakes were then sold as originals by Glafira Rosales, an obscure art dealer, who reaped millions of dollars in profits, peddling them to venerable Manhattan art galleries with distinguished reputations, such as Knoedler's.  The venerable art galleries then reaped even greater profits, reselling the paintings to Wall Street executives and investment bankers. (For example, Knoedler's sold $63 million worth of the paintings, keeping its "fee" of $43 million and paying only $20 million to Rosales.)  The Wall Street executives could afford the paintings because the executives had become fabulously wealthy using slippery tactics to manipulate the financial system at huge social cost to pension funds, home owners with mortgages, and individual investors.  Because the Wall Street executives had no personal taste for art, they paid huge fees to consultants and advisors who claimed to have impeccable judgment and great expertise.  These advisors would never stoop so low as to purchase art from a painter selling his work on the streets of New York. 

Ah, but the nest of parasites does not end there.  There is now a blizzard of law suits from the purchasers of the fakes, who are indignant at being defrauded.  My initial reaction to these lawsuits was, "If you were inspired by the beauty of the picture when you first bought it (as you claimed in your press releases) it looks exactly the same now, so sit down and shut the fuck up."

However, one must keep in mind that these lawsuits are likely to generate millions of dollars in fees for large corporate law firms, and as a lawyer I don't want to write anything that might discourage this worthy outcome.  How else could law firms afford to do pro bono work for impoverished artists who sell their work on the streets of New York?