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Tuesday, 24 January 2012 04:25

Knoedler forgery scandal grows

Spanish Elegy, attributed to Motherwell Spanish Elegy, attributed to Motherwell

Just as the number of fakes connected to German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi keeps growing (see below), the scandal that has engulfed the Knoedler gallery, and the doubts being cast over works by US abstract expressionists including Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, goes from bad to worse.
Last month, hedge fund manager Pierre Lagrange filed a complaint in a Manhattan federal court against the Knoedler gallery and its former director, Ann Freedman, alleging that the gallery sold him a forged Pollock painting for $17m in November 2007.

This follows the recent, highly public dispute between art dealer Marc Blondeau, Julian Weissman, a former associate director of the Knoedler gallery, and the Dedalus Foundation, which represents the Motherwell estate. Blondeau bought a work attributed to Motherwell entitled Spanish Elegy, dated 1953, from Weissman after the Dedalus Foundation had deemed it to be authentic. In 2009, after forensic analysis, the Dedalus Foundation changed its mind, which resulted in all three ending up in court. This was settled in October 2011: the work was stamped as a forgery (see box below) and both Blondeau and the Dedalus Foundation received compensation. The Lagrange case is ongoing, while a federal investigation into the possible forgeries of works by artists including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, Richard Diebenkorn and Barnett Newman, is under way.

Legal papers and testimonies also suggest a number of leading art galleries have unwittingly been caught up in the scandals. Timothy Taylor Gallery and art dealer Jaime Frankfurt are named in the Lagrange papers as intermediaries in the sale of the Pollock. Court papers filed by the Dedalus Foundation state that Haunch of Venison opened its New York space in 2008 with a show that “put [a] supposed Newman painting from the so-called David Herbert collection [see box] in place of honour”. The current whereabouts of this work is unclear.


Both cases and the Beltracchi investigation lay bare the inherent problems of authenticating works of art in an industry reliant on reputation and trust—and the apparent ease with which determined forgers can pass works through the system.

 “This is very scary stuff,” says one prominent New York collector. “These are all people we know, and have been dealing with for years.” Blondeau, who was also a victim of Beltracchi, says that: “We are facing a very serious problem, especially because markets are so overheated­—historically, when markets are strong, forgeries appear.” He adds of his own involvement: “I was fooled—the works were an incredible quality.”

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