Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

December 22 2015

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: New York Times

The Knoedler fake scandal continues, with legal arguments for a new trial taking place this last month. The latest case is due to former Knoedler client Domenico De Sole suing the gallery for $25.3m, for having been sold a fake Rothko.

Some aspects of the Knoedler defence are really extraordinary, and set a new low for the already low bar of art world shiftiness. For example, the gallery's former director Ann Freedman says that despite buying a stack of suspiciously cheap works with no documentation or concrete provenance from dealer Glafira Rosales (who has already pleaded guilty to selling fakes) she (Freedman) genuinely believed they were authentic, because 'the experts' said they were. And yet we already know from an earlier court hearing that in one case (for the fake Jackson Pollock above) the 'expert' in question was paid a $300,000 'consulting fee' for declaring the work genuine. $300,000! I cannot seriously imagine any dealer paying such a fee for a declaration of authenticity, and not asking themselves if the huge sum might have had a bearing on the opinion given. Nobody can be that naive, surely.

Then there's Freedman's 'caveat emptor' defence. As The Art Newspaper reports:

The parties are also battling over how the judge should instruct the jury on the law to apply to the evidence. One point of contention is the legal standard for evaluating whether the De Soles were justified in relying on what Freedman told them. The De Soles say they were entitled to believe her, because of Knoedler’s prestigious reputation.

The defendants argue that the collectors should have investigated the work’s authenticity themselves and have asked the judge to instruct the jury to determine whether the De Soles did “enough due diligence relative to their net worth”. The De Soles have taken umbrage at this, and say that the defendants are implying that “rich people are required to do more due diligence because they can afford it—that is wrong”. 

If this Knoedler defence is allowed to stand, then it's effectively saying that art galleries are mere physical spaces in which art is sold, and that if you want to buy something then it's up to you to make sure the art on offer is real. That's a contemptible sign off from a contemptible operation, and I hope Mr. De Sole wins hands down. 

By the way, next time someone tells you that the Old Master world is beset by attributional uncertainty, and that people like to buy modern and contemporary art because 'they know it's genuine', just remember the Knoedler case. 

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