FBI INVESTIGATES AB-EX DEALER, KNOEDLER’S CLOSESNov. 29, 2011
The art world is still reeling from last week’s discovery that one of its most respected galleries, the 165-year-old Knoedler & Co., was hoodwinked -- or possibly complicit -- in what looks like a big Ab-Ex art forgery ring operated by a little-known Long Island art dealer named Glafira Rosales.
The New York Times reported that the FBI has opened an investigation into a string of about 15 high-priced fakes purporting to be by the likes of Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Rosales, a one-time Manhattan gallery owner who is the source of many of the works in question, repeatedly turned to Knoedler to provide legitimacy for her otherwise uncertain wares. She told Knoedler’s then director, Ann Freedman, as well as independent dealer Julian Weissman, that she had access to the secret stash of an unnamed client, a “close family friend,” who lived between Switzerland and Mexico. She said the man had inherited a number of works from his father, who in turn had purchased them directly from the artists in the 1950s. The client’s identity and contact information were never revealed because, she said, he had a deep concern for privacy.
Then, just before the story broke, Knoedler abruptly closed its doors. The gallery isn’t directly implicated in the investigation, but the move did come just one day before French collector Pierre Lagrange filed a lawsuit against Knoedler and Freedman for selling him Untitled 1950, supposedly by Jackson Pollock, for a hefty $17 million in 2007. The painting, which Lagrange now believes is a fake, is one of several works that the gallery received from Rosales and resold, despite what seems in hindsight to be sketchy provenance. Recent forensic testing indicates that the work contains pigments not invented until well after Pollock’s death.
Improbably, the gallery denies that its closing had anything to do with the forgery scandal. Friends of Freedman, who left Knoedler a few years ago, insist that she would never risk her reputation or the gallery's by knowingly trying to sell fakes. What's more, the secondary-market brouhaha is especially strange in light of Knoedler's recent primary market shows of artists like Lynn Davis, Matt Magee, Graham Nickson, Charles Simonds and John Walker, among others. An interim director and the staff appear to be settling the gallery’s affairs as efficiently as possible. One of the gallery's younger artists reports via email that he has close to a dozen works still at the gallery but is not owed any money and is “secure that my work will be returned.”
In the latest development, Jack Flam, president of the Dedalus Foundation, which authenticates the work of Motherwell and has been assembling his catalogue raisonné for more than a decade, appeared to distance himself from the scandal with an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year, an Irish art gallery sued Dedalus for authenticating a $650,000 Motherwell painting in 2007 -- a picture that it had bought from Weissman, acting for Rosales -- and then reversing its decision a couple of years later. Flam has said that he became concerned about Dedalus’ initial decision after noticing a flood of Rosales Motherwells’ coming onto the market. He had forensic testing done on two paintings and found that each consisted of two pigments that weren’t invented until 10 or more years after the signed 1953 and 1955 dates.
In the article, Flam argued that art authentication organizations such as his must be freed from the burden of constant litigation, allowed to change their minds and to refuse to explain why -- lest they provide a “roadmap for forgers.”
Dedalus, which is not a target in the FBI investigation, prevailed in a settlement with the Irish gallery in October and stamped the back of the painting, “not an authentic work by Robert Motherwell but a forgery.” Flam wrote in the op-ed, “As a result of this growth in litigation, many experts have been discouraged from giving opinions about authentication not only to the public but even to scholars studying other artists.” He added, “So far as I know, all such lawsuits have been unsuccessful, but they can nonetheless inflict an enormous loss of time and money on the foundations involved.”