Still happening even without John Myatt’s “Genuine Fakes”

Glafira Rosales

NEW YORK — A New York art dealer admitted Monday she took part in a 15-year scam that fooled art enthusiasts into buying more than $80 million of counterfeits imitating famous artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Glafira Rosales, 57, of Sands Point, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, telling Judge Katherine P. Failla that for parts of two decades she teamed with others to sell counterfeits of various expressionist artists including Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell.

“These works of art were actually fakes created by an individual residing in Queens,” she said, alluding to an artist who had studied at a New York art school and sold paintings on the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s.

She said she sold counterfeits to the Knoedler Gallery and Julian Weissman Fine Art in Manhattan, earning herself millions.

The confession came as Rosales pleaded guilty to nine charges, including wire fraud, tax fraud and money laundering. The charges carry a potential prison term of up to 99 years, though Rosales can earn leniency through a cooperation deal requiring her to share what she knows with prosecutors, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.

Prosecutors say more people will be charged in the case.

An indictment charged Rosales with defrauding the Manhattan art galleries of more than $30 million with 63 fake art pieces. The pieces were promoted as never-before-exhibited and previously unknown works of art, attracting more than $80 million from unsuspecting customers.

She said she arranged for proceeds of the sales to be transferred to banks in Spain and understated much of the income on her tax returns.

As part of a plea deal, Rosales agreed to file amended personal tax returns from 2006 through 2011 and pay taxes and penalties. She also must forfeit $33 million, representing property derived from the crimes, and restitution in a yet-to-be-decided amount up to $81 million.

She also must give up her Long Island home and art purchased between 1994 and 2012.

In return, prosecutors promise not to bring charges related to various crimes, including a fraudulent marriage between Rosales and a U.S. citizen in 1986.

Her sentencing had been set for March 18, but it’s expected to be postponed.

By LARRY NEUMEISTER 09/16/13 04:20 PM ET EDT AP

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Monet’s Water Lilies sells for $43M in New York

Monet’s Water Lilies sells for $43M in New York

Posted: Nov 7, 2012 1:01 PM ET

Claude Monet's Water Lilies is to sell Wednesday to benefit  the Hackley School in suburban Tarrytown, N.Y.

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies is to sell Wednesday to benefit the Hackley School in suburban Tarrytown, N.Y. (Christie’s New York/Associated Press)

Claude Monet’s 1905 painting Nymphéas or Water Lilies sold for almost $43.8 millioin US Wednesday evening at Christie’s auction of Impressionist and modern masters in New York.

Water Lilies was created during the period when the French painter was beginning a series of images centred around the lily pond at the heart of his garden in Giverny. The best of the nearly 60 increasingly abstract paintings from that period, including Water Lilies, were selected for his 1909 exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, which launched Monet to commercial and critical success.

The painting remained in private collection until 1998, when owner Ethel Strong Allen loaned the work for a Monet exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

JOHN MYATT TWEETS ABOUT THE SALE

@john_myatt John Myatt 8 Nov

Yesterday Monet’s Water Lilies sold for a huge £27m – but could you tell the difference between it & a John Myatt fake?

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Laney Interview Part II

I give you Part II, the conclusion, of my interview with Laney Salisbury.  A huge thank you goes out to her again.  And to all of you for checking the blog.  I hope this inspired you to think about some of the questions and I think we will have a great discussion tonight. 

Evanston Public Library:  And after reading what he did to that elderly woman I realized that he just can’t stop.  You’ve said that Drewe is a pathological liar.  I don’t think he can even help himself do you?

Laney Salisbury:  He’s a thug.  No, I think his self-esteem is all wrapped up in this.  This is true for many con-men; they get a kick out of fooling people.  And it’s not about the money; it’s about how it makes them feel.  So, it’s just part of who they are.  They have to be challenged and that’s why some con-men make rules for themselves to make the game more difficult for themselves.  It’s usually why almost every con ends up with the con-man conning his partner, because that’s the ultimate biggest challenge; if you’ve done that then you must be great.

You said you had to search for this story and that you were really interested in this con-man persona.  How did you find it? 

There was a lot of Googling back then.  There was no sort of “A-HA” moment.  I remember coming across, in the archives, a forger from the past from the 20’s or 30’s.  It was van Meegeren who someone just wrote a book about too.  And I actually said to Aly, “This would be a great story, but can we find someone recent.  I’d like to report on something where the people are still alive.”  He actually then showed me an article on John Myatt and I read it and, for me, sometimes I see a story and I can immediately tell if it’s a book.  I don’t know what it is; I can just see all the issues that can be discussed, narratives that can be focused on, it just seemed like the perfect little story, so I gave it a shot. 

In the UK the book was released under two different names: “The Conman: How One Man Fooled Britain’s Modern-Art Establishment” and “The Conman: How an Amateur Figured out the Art World and Fooled the Experts” versus the US version, “Provenance: How a Con Man and an Art Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art.”  Which title do you feel is the most telling?

Oh, “Provenance”.   I can’t stand the other titles.  I don’t know why they did that.  I like “Provenance” because it’s all about history.  This is a book not only about the provenance of artworks but of people too.  In my head, who is the real John Myatt?  John Myatt can’t even figure out who he is.  He doesn’t have a style of his own so that’s what he does.  John Drewe is a faker and these other people are fakes, so, to me, it seemed like a more appropriate title.  It’s not just about the con-man; it’s about all our abilities to figure out where our origins are and who we are.  I didn’t come up with the title, it was the publisher, but when I saw it I thought, “Oh yeah, how perfect.”

In the roundtable discussion you referred to the director of the Giacometti Association, Lisa Palmer, as the hero of this story.  Can you explain why you feel that way?

Because she’s real.  She doesn’t fall for any of the bells and whistles or trappings.  She’s just very down to earth and very factual, and didn’t put up with anybody’s BS.  I thought that was admirable, particularly in the art world, it is all about what you’re wearing and where you’re staying and what kind of watch you have.  It’s a very stylish business and people judge you based on your style and that’s what they were doing to those artworks too; they were judging them on the provenances and getting all excited that some very famous, well-known people owned these works and that was clouding their judgment.  And she was the only one that was saying, “I don’t care who owned it.  Look at the work.  The work is a fake.”  And she just wouldn’t accept anything else and she was just very much the keeper of the flame.  So many people told her so many stories, so she would just listen to them and say, “Look at the canvas.  That’s all that matters.  And that canvas is a fake, so don’t bother talking to me about this.”  She wasn’t fooled by anything.  She wasn’t fooled by John Drewe’s degrees or charms, unlike everyone else, except that archivist.

The biggest criticism of you book, in fact the only one I can find, is that you didn’t include photographs.  You have stated you were unable to attain the rights to the forgeries because there was confusion about who actually owned them, be it Myatt, Scotland Yard, or the gallery owners.  Why then did you choose not to include originals, and not the forgeries? 

I would have also had to get permission for that.  It also just became a time element.  And Aly died before this was all completed.  And this was the last step, and it was just too much.  The result is that part suffered.  The issue that made it complicated was that for every artist, you have to track down the estate and you have to ask, and then negotiate a price, get the picture and put it in the book.  It would have been a long process, and then with the fakes, I don’t think it would have been possible at the end of the day.

You mentioned van Meegeren and the Vermeers, and the cover of that book (“The Forger’s Spell”) says that the van Meegeren hoax was the greatest art hoax of the twentieth century, yet all the press says that John Drewe’s con was best.  Which is greater in your opinion?

Oh, John Drewe.  I mean each story is different.  I think what made John Drewe different from van Meegeren is that John Drewe was also messing with the archives.  So in that sense it was not just about putting fakes on the market, he was changing cultural history.  And that’s how his scam was very different than others. 

I’ve read a couple things that talk about the possibility that this story will be made into a movie.  One report read that Michael Douglas would be Drewe and on Myatt’s personal website it says that Green Gaia is currently writing the screenplay.  Do you have any part in that?

Ya know it’s confusing.  That Michael Douglas movie got canned a long time ago.  Then for a while John Myatt and I had a contract that expired, to get a movie deal through the traditional route, where you have an agent.  But those take time and it’s up to John, he can do whatever he likes.  He seems to be signing these little deals that tend to go bust.  If it works, great, I hope they use the title of the book, but I don’t know.  This is the third one that’s come along.  It’d be good.  I don’t know if it’s going on or not.  I still talk to him, but I haven’t in about eight months, probably because the contract expired.  He has his life rights and I can’t just sell the rights to the book, he has to sell his life rights. 

In all these interviews, not to mention you were an Oprah book club pick, what is the one question you’ve never been asked, or what is the one thing you’d like people to know about your book?

This book took four years to write.  The world is so fast these days and people are used to getting information right away, sometimes they don’t appreciate how hard it is to get good information.  It is a process that takes time.  And if you want the good, verifiable, right information, you still have to sweat for it.  To me, four years doesn’t seem like that long given that you have to talk to people and show them documents and say, “This is what I read.  Does this make sense?  Is this how you remember it?  He said this, what do you think he said?”  Sometimes you work for three weeks for the approval of one quote.  So, I guess that. 

What is your favorite non-fiction read?

Wow, there are a lot.  I love Nathaniel Philbrick, “In the Heart of the Sea.”  It was so well crafted and put together, so smooth.  I love “The Perfect Storm” by Junger.  That was my first real introduction to that kind of narrative non-fiction.  “In Cold Blood” too, I love those classic ones.

Laney Interview Part I

Laney Salisbury

To get maximum excitement – I waited to share this interview with you.  I really did it because I asked Laney a lot of the same questions I’ll be posing to you tomorrow night, and I didn’t want her answers to skew your interpretations whilst you were still reading.  So tonight it Part I and tomorrow morning will be Part II.  I had to chop the interview up a little bit so I could ferret out the actual questions, and because of that it doesn’t read so much like a conversation now, but you’ll get the point.   

Evanston Public Library:  You said you and your husband were fascinated with the idea of the con-man.  What was is about that type of person that made you go searching for this story?

Laney Salisbury: I think, for me, it’s always the reveal.  You know how someone can be taken along so far and get so committed to this program that the con man is offering that even when all the signs aren’t being given, they still don’t see it.  So in a way it’s also sot of this magician’s type trick.  It’s the deception that kind of really got me and constantly asking myself, “Would I be fooled?”  And I think the answer is “yes” I would’ve been.  I was thinking about this today.  I was thinking I had sort of one instance in my life where, I wouldn’t say I was conned, but I was in denial.  And it wasn’t until I learned the truth that I saw everything in the past get pieced together in an instant and I was like, “Wow.”  I didn’t want to see the signs. So it’s kind of those tricks of the mind that we are all capable of playing on ourselves to the point of where it’s damaging.  I mean John Drewe, it’s not John Drewe’s fault in a sense, it’s Myatt’s fault that he was conned. 

John Drewe got six years originally, but only served two for his art crime and forgery, which I find ridiculous, because he essentially ruined the cultural heritage of not only England, but whoever else bought those paintings and where they are now.  Were you surprised by that original sentencing?

Well, I guess because it’s only for nine works, because they couldn’t make the connection for all of them even thought they knew it was much bigger.  So in part they had to sentence him based on that.  And also people acknowledge that forgery sentencing is pretty light when compared to other crimes.  I don’t know if I agree. To me it felt like kind of a light sentence because he earned millions of dollars, but then again, it was just based on the earnings of those nine.  And those nine weren’t very much.  I think, just for Drewe too, that’s sort of where people got angry at the crime.  He wasn’t just forging works, but he was messing around with our understanding of legacies and that’s what’s going to hurt, that’s always going to wreak havoc, so everyone’s art legacy gets diluted and whether we’re talking about art or history.  He’s messing around with our perceptions of the past.  So that as a philosophy, I would put him in prison for life because it’s the past that guides our future.

John Myatt is now a local legend.  He has a gallery, he makes these “legitimate forgeries”, even the judge who sentenced him asked for one, and the police commissioner asked for one of his works after he was released.

John Myatt benefited from all of this, which sort of put me in an odd position sometimes because every now and then I was like, “Is he telling me the truth?” because it’s to his benefit that a book comes out.  It would be good for his business.  But he definitely profited off this, whether that’s ethical or not, I guess I will let everyone else make that judgment.   Crime did pay for him and no one seemed to have a moral problem to go to him and have him paint works for them.  It was by their asking for works after the trial that Myatt got it into his head that he could make a legitimate business out of it. 

I watched these YouTube videos of his shows in the UK where he teaches people how to paint “in the style of” Van Gogh or Renoir.  So it’s not even as if he’s hiding or ashamed of what he’d done. 

No.  He told me that was part of his punishment.  He does come off as a very honest, open person.   I actually liked him a lot.  And I asked him why he was giving me so much of his time.  I called him every day over a period of several months, every day at 10:00 and we would have a conversation.  And then I went out and visited him.  I think I saw him twice.  And I asked him, “Why do you keep talking to me?  What do you get out of it?”  And he said, “I promised myself that when I was in prison that if anyone wanted to talk to me, part of my punishment would be that I would say ‘yes’.” 

You mentioned that in the roundtable discussion that it was part of his “penance” to tell the truth.  Yet in the latest article I read about him, he was quoted as saying that if he came across one of the forgeries Drewe had sold on the market that he, “wouldn’t let on because I would be losing an innocent person money.”  Don’t you feel that he has an obligation to the truth?  And shouldn’t his “penance” include exposing all parts of this fraud?

I don’t think Myatt felt guilty about what he’d done because he had broken the law and because he’d done something dishonest by selling something that wasn’t what it was purported to be, but on the other hand, he’s very much of a socialist and he believes that art should be public.  He doesn’t believe in the private ownership of art.  He doesn’t believe that people should make money off art, but that it should just be celebrated as art.  So I think on that side, he doesn’t want anyone to suffer because of his mistake and he doesn’t care so much if it dilutes the work of the artist; people should just like art because they like it, whether it’s a Monet or a fake or a Giacometti or something that your neighbor did.  So I think that’s why this crime was sort of perfect for him.  He used to do public murals and was never part of the gallery scenes.  But he is talented.  If it wasn’t against the law, he would probably do this again, if he could somehow confine the damage to someone who could afford it.

In your research, did you get an inkling of how much of the world’s art is forged? 

I found various statistics.  I think I saw something that said almost 50%.  It was a lot more than we realize.  And part of it is that it’s not just an outright fake, but there are people out there who might change a signature or they might think it’s by a certain artist and add a signature on.  So there are various degrees.  A restorer might redo a work so much that it looks a lot better than it is.  And I remember after reading that thinking, “Boy, I’ll never buy artwork from a dealer.”  And it also begs the question why do we have a fascination with old masters?  Why not just buy new works by new people?

Your book brings up a lot of questions about what art is and what it is worth. I was wondering if you have any art at home and what type?

My mother-in-law was in the art business.  She focused on Latin American Art, so I do have a couple of things.  I had a sculpture which I got rid of.  They’re not high-priced pieces.  That sculpture I just got rid of, I never liked it.  I was holding on to it because it belonged to my husband and then when he died I was like, “I don’t like it.”  I have no attachment to it.  It’s gone and I never even miss it.  I do have a poster that’s maybe worth 10 cents and it’s huge and I love it.  And I can’t imagine getting rid of it.  It comes down to how you view art; whether you view it as art or as a collectible that you can make money off of.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess that people tend to forget that the art world is a business.  Yes, there’s expertise in it and it comes from long study and practice and skill but at the heart of it, it is business.  And I guess that’s why the skepticism gets lowered when people shop for artwork because they think it’s all about love and colors and trust because we are all talking about beauty, but behind it is the dollar.  I think that’s why so many people get duped. 

You mentioned briefly that the art market is unregulated.  One of the most interesting parts, and one that played a big role in the book, was the notion or rule of “droit moral,” that someone living can judge a work and say unequivocally if it is authentic or not.  How are you to say that they haven’t been corrupted in some way, which is totally possible, correct?

Yes.  Exactly and that’s the law for France.  I don’t know how much influence “droit moral” will have in US courts, but it has been used.  I don’t know how heavy they weigh that evidence.  For many of these estates, if you want to have a work authenticated and you received a stamp from that estate, you pay for it.  So it’s a conflict of interest.  It is in their benefit to say yes because they’ll get like $300 or whatever.  And if you also cry fake in the US and in Europe too, you can also get sued for damages.  So a lot of dealers might see a fake and just shrug their shoulder and pass it off or send it back and say they don’t like it.  Because to say it’s a fake and pull it off is too much work. 

Who are the real victims in this case?  Because the way you write the book, it seems that you aren’t really that hard on Myatt and he comes off as this great guy and you make it seem like he’s a victim as well.  So who, in your opinion, are the actual victims of this crime, or John Drewe?

John Drewe is definitely not a victim.  I think everyone that fell for him seemed like a victim to me.  Just based on the one experience I had with him and talking to these people, their own confidence in themselves has been shaken, they’re just so surprised that their minds led them down this road that it just made them more; I wouldn’t say paranoid but, a lot more fearful of the world.  And, to me, that just seemed really cruel.  And while they didn’t lose money, I think they lost a part of themselves in this.  I know his ex-wife has had a hard time after hooking up with him and her children didn’t really turn out to be great citizens.  They could have accomplished a lot more than they have and it’s because they had a father like that. 

Just a Reminder…

We will be having our first meeting tomorrow evening starting at 7:00 pm.  The meeting will be held in the West Conference Room on the 3rd floor of the Main Library at the corner of Church and Orrington.  I can’t wait to meet you all and discuss this amazing book.  Feel free to bring questions if you have any, or submit them to me if you’d like me to pose them to the group.

Until tomorrow,

Kim