Knoedler fakes 'biggest art scam in US history'

June 2 2016

Video: CBS/YouTube

There's a good CBS '60 Minutes' on the Knoedler fake scandal, presented by Anderson Cooper. You can watch it above on You Tube at 15m10s in, or in better quality here (with ads) on the CBS site. It only lasts about 12 minutes, but even in that short time you are left wondering 'how the hell did the Knoedler Gallery not know these pictures were fake'? 

We learn, for example, that the technical specialist James Martin of Orion Analytical was able to discern 'within an hour' that one of the Rothkos he examined was a fake, simply by noticing a white ground layer that Rothko would never have used at the date the painting was supposed to have been made. He also discovered that tea had been used to age some of the pictures, and an electric sanding machine had been applied to the paint layers to wear them down.

Also, an art historian who first rumbled the sale of fake Motherwells by Knoedler, Jack Flam, was able to find 'within a week' through the use of a private detective that Glafira Rosales was not the top-flight international art dealer who Freedman said she was, and that her boyfriend, Carlos Bergantinos-Diaz, had been accused of selling forgeries in Spain. (Seperately - reports Artnet news - a Spanish court has this week prevented Bergantinos-Diaz's extradition to the US on grounds of ill health.)

All of this is basic stuff the Knoedler gallery and its director Anne Freedman should have done, but say they didn't - or didn't know. In all, some 63 fakes were sold, totalling $80m - it's being called 'the biggest art scam in US history'. It's a reminder that for all we worry about authenticity in the Old Master art world (and rightly so) it's an even bigger issue in the modern and contemporary world.

There's also a line from Anne Freedman's attorney to the effect that the buyers of these pictures should have been wary of the fact that there was little provenance or paperwork, and if they weren't comfortable with that 'they shouldn't have bought them'. Which is a shameful defence for any reputable art dealer to use. I'm astonished to see that she has set up a new gallery in New York. Caveat emptor.

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