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Tag Archives: art forgery

Forgery Trial Book

When the authenticity of two million dollars paintings sold comes into question the stage is set for a major legal battle. Were the two large paintings forgeries or were they innocent? Was it an elaborate art fraud? Or were they by the Australian superstar artist Brett Whiteley’s whose tragic death from a heroin overdose meant that he wasn’t around to dispute its authenticity.

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In her book Gabriella Coslovich takes the reader step by step through this complex case of art forgery. From the first suspicions and the police investigation, through the committal hearing in the Magistrates Court to the trial in the Supreme Court and the subsequent appeal. She interviews, or attempted to interview, everyone involved in the story from the artist’s widow Wendy Whiteley through to witnesses, millionaire victims, police and defence lawyers. Not surprisingly not everyone want to talk but surprisingly one of the defendants, Peter Gant does. Not that she was the only journalist that he talked to; Gant seemed to bask in the media attention that his trial brought.

In the book Coslovich considers the difference between the art world and the laws assessment of the authenticity of the paintings. The issue of connoisseurship, of having “a good eye” is important to the art world but provenance is also important. People repeatedly say about Gant that he had a good eye for saleable art. Was this the same as selling a fake Rolex watch? As one of the lawyers in the case posited. Or is there a difference that the law should recognise? The damage to art history is rarely considered.

By the time it got the trial in the Supreme Court Coslovich had been investigating Peter Gant’s dodgy art deals for six years, both as the arts reporter for The Age newspaper and as an independent writer. So it was not surprising that she is passionately that she wants to see a conviction. It is her depth of knowledge of the case that made her bristled with anticipation every day of the four week trial. I know because I was sitting next to her. I am referred to once in her book as “one of my fellow scribes” (p.151) discussing with her how the dock influences juries.

I think that Coslovich may have solved one piece of the puzzle with her careful analysis of the various versions of the catalogue. The difference in gallery address and the missing printer corrections are crucial details. She doesn’t make a big thing about it in the book and unfortunately her discovery comes too late.

Gabriella Coslovich Whiteley On Trial (Melbourne University Press, 2017)

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True Crime and Art

I am working on my next book about true crime and visual arts in Australia. (My first book  Sculptures of Melbourne of Melbourne was published last year.) This has involved sitting in court, searching archives as well as, my usual activities, looking at art and talking to artists.

Melbourne, like all metropolises has artists, public art galleries, private art galleries, art collectors, art dealers and criminals, everything that is needed for art thefts. Everything that is needed for a lot of other crimes involving art and art involved in crimes.

There are many true stories about the intersection between the worlds of art and crime. I will be writing about the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, of course and also other stories involving art thefts, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art.

Earlier this year I spent days sitting in the Supreme Court watching the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique for the forging of Brett Whiteley paintings. I learnt a lot about courtroom procedures and how Brett Whiteley’s paintings are framed.

Both Gant and Siddique have been found guilty by the jury but the judgement for that trial has still not been given, so I can’t finish that chapter just yet. Coincidentally it was one of the last trials to be conducted with a judge in a wig.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at original documents in the State Library’s Heritage Collection Reading Room. I had heard that they had the sketch book of the bushranger and sculptor, William Stanford. When I investigated I found that there were two books. They were waiting for me on the desk with the pillow on it. The pillow was to cradle the spin of the delicate old books, its cover half falling off, pages coming out. I was surprised that I was not required to wear white gloves to handle them but there was enough grim on the pages already from when Stanford was in Pentridge.

I was not allowed to take photographs of Stanford’s notebooks, nor was I allowed to photograph the tags on Supreme court’s press bench where the crime reporter have cut their names. Not that I am worried as my next book is going to be an unusual book about art, one without many pictures.

Mostly my historical research has involved searching old newspapers scanned on Trove. You would not believe the number of paint brushes stolen in Victoria in the nineteenth century but before mass production made them inexpensive. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that anyone actually stole a painting.

Readers maybe able to help me if they:

  • Any serving or retired member of Victoria Police who has investigated any art theft, fraud involving art, vandalism of art or is interested in art crimes.
  • Knew the painter Ronald Bull
  • Has any information about Phillip Richmond O’Loughlin of Sydney from around 1946
  • Knows Timur Grin or Anthony D’Souza
  • Has any information about John Allen Haywood of Mount Druitt
  • Knew Ivan and Pamela Liberto in Toorak. Ivan worked as a mechanic in Diamond Creek
  • Taught visual arts at any prison in Victoria
  • Studied visual arts in prison in Victoria
  • Has a criminal conviction for graffiti in Melbourne
  • Was a victims of art theft or forgery in Melbourne
  • Has been arrested and/or convicted of any crime due to their art practice in Melbourne
  • Was a member of the Australian Cultural Terrorists (ACT)

If you want to contact me about this or any other information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.


Books and Milestones

Today is the anniversary of my first book launch (insert plug for Sculptures of Melbourne here). Recently I passed several other milestones. Earlier this year I posted my 1,000th blog post. And now this blog has had over 500,000 total views! Thanks to everyone for reading it. Cheers!

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The author trying to look through Andy Warhol’s eyes with a sleep mask from the Warhol/WeiWei exhibition gift shop.

I have started researching my next book about art and crime. There are many true stories at this intersection between two worlds, stories involving art thefts, art forgery, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art. If you want to contact me with information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.

I was able to post an early draft about courtroom sketch artists but I will not always be able to do that. I can’t blog about some of my current research into art and crime, so you will have to wait and read about it in my next book.

For this and other reasons, that I will describe as R&R (research and relaxation), I will be taking a short break from posting on this blog. I feel that I owe my regular readers a note explaining the absence of any blog posts rather than simply vanish and leave them wondering what happened. I hope to be posting my usual mix of exhibition reviews, street art notes, public sculpture history and other items about Melbourne’s visual arts culture in a little over a month.

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The Case of Art Forgeries

There are always crimes to spice up art history and the most intriguing, disturbing and masterful of these crimes in art forgery.

In October 2012 there was a day long symposium at the Johnston Collection: The Delicate Art of Deception – revealing fakes and forgeries: talks about fakes in early English glass, Romanian carpets, and antique furniture. Eugene Barilo von Reisberg distinguished between originals, replicas, versions, revivals, copies, reproductions, mistaken attribution and misrepresentations (fakes and forgeries) in his talk “What’s in a name?” Dr Alison Inglis gave a talk about the history of interest in fakes and forgeries.

The medieval fake relics were from a world that had faith in religious history. The idea of history was revived during the Renaissance and after the classical revival and the rest of Europe slowly followed the great man theory of history. This peaked in the nineteenth century because the combined attraction of both the contact magic of the relic of the great man and the idea of genius. However the nineteenth century was also the golden age of art forgery and subsequently the fear of forgers.

The interest in art by contemporary artists was spurred on by the glut of fakes, not that there weren’t still fakes. Progressive modern artists were then promoted to satisfy both the demands of a whig history and the collectors for whom the gloss of contact magic hadn’t worn off. Dr. Inglis noted that public interest in fakes and forgeries peaked in 2010 with multiple exhibitions of art forgeries around the world.

The modern world also has demands on art, it had to scientifically prove its authenticity, or at least documentary evidence of authenticity. Scientific analysis and micro-history are the current paradigms of art authentication. Works of art become archeological sites to be deconstructed layer by layer following Lacarod’s exchange principle that every contact leaves a trace. The problem with this paradigm is that although it is rigorously evidence based it doesn’t tell much about art, there is little poetry to the microscope.

Associate Professor Robyn Sloggett of Melbourne University’s Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation spoke about attribution and how in a hot art market need, speed and greed allow attribution to slip. The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation provides Australia’s most scientific attribution assessments.

Fakes and forgeries reveal how the institutions, the collectors and the art experts understand, value and tell the story of history and what truths are value. In his book The Art Forger’s Handbook, the art forger, Eric Hebborn tells of two art collectors that he admired Thomas Butts and Luman Reed. Butts bought from William Blake and Reed having once acquired a forgery only bought directly from living artists.

Apart from their abuse of historical facts art forgeries appear to be a complaint of affluence. And apart from new technology and new forgers there doesn’t seem to be anything new in the discussion of fakes and forgeries: there are new scandals to talk about, like the Libertos but the old scandals, like Van Meegren are still discussed. Forgers, and their books, make such fascinating reading; Tom Keating is like a character straight out of an episode of Minder.

“When the dealer who sold Cat. 219 discovered that one of his sources, Elmyr de Hory, was a master forger, he hastened to alert all those to whom he had sold works acquired from de Hory of the situation and properly offered them their money back. Most accepted but the owners in this case (Mr. and Mrs. Patrick E. O’Rourke from Minneapolis) declined stating they bought the drawing because they loved it and not because it was a ‘Modigliani’. They still love it regardless of the author.” (Fakes and Forgeries, catalogue of exhibition at the Minneapolis Inst. Of Art. July 11- Sept. 1973 p.220)

Philosopher, Mark Sagoff makes the analogy between appreciation of art with love. “Love attaches to individuals and not simply to their qualities or to the pleasures they give. People are not interchangeable; we stand by old friends. Why? You love a particular man or woman – not just anyone who fills the bill. You cannot love a person by pretending he or she is someone else. You cannot appreciate a forgery by pretending it is a masterpiece.” (Mark Sagoff “ On Restoring and Reproducing Art” The Journal of Philosophy 75, 1978, p.453)

However, if your love turns out to be an imposter, like the recent cases of the British undercover police officer who fathered a son while in his undercover role, then that would change the relationship.


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