The big business of art fraud.
Former Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Thomas Hoving once declared that 40 percent of art in museums is fake. The FBI has a special, highly trained Art Crime Team, and the London-based Art Loss Register has compiled a database of nearly 200,000 stolen artworks. Amore (co-author: Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists, 2011, etc.), head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, offers riveting profiles of ingenious con men and women who have duped gallery owners, collectors, museum officials, and appraisers to pass off forged paintings as originals by the most famous artists in the world. Among them are Pei-Shen Qian, a talented Chinese immigrant in need of money who produced abstract expressionist paintings complete with the signatures of Pollack, Rothko, and de Kooning; and the brilliant Wolfgang Beltracchi, who claimed that he “channeled” the spirits of the artists whose works he imitated. Forgers, Amore notes, are usually “middle-aged men frustrated by their own failures as artists (or perhaps the failure of the art world to recognize their greatness).” They tend to produce impressionist or abstract expressionist paintings since they are easier to make than old masters; and they work in oils, not the more delicate watercolors. To sell forgeries, they must come up with each work’s provenance, or record of ownership, producing documents that themselves are fake. Art scams require buyers: one con man who auctioned worthless paintings on eBay believed that buyers were motivated by “optimistic self-delusion” that “they have found something good.” That self-delusion might even explain why the head of New York’s famed Knoedler Gallery was taken in by forgers: probably, writes the author, “she was intoxicated by the prospect of being part of the unleashing of a heretofore unknown collection on the world.”
An engrossing read about brazen, artful scams.