Pei-Shen Rothko?

ABC_real_or_fake_rothko

A Rothko allegedly faked by Qian.
[Image Via ABC News]

To neighbors he was another unassuming man in a working class Queens neighborhood who struggled to make ends meet in a competitive art market. To Federal prosecutors he was a brilliant forger whose work duped high end collectors out of millions of dollars.

Pei-Shen Qian was a Chinese immigrant with an uncanny ability to mimic Abstract Expressionist masters. He could be Rothko, Pollock or Willem de Kooning. His fabrications have sold for millions in the defunct New York gallery Knoedler & Company.

Qian allegedly worked through Glafira Rosales, an intermediary who either sold or consigned his works with Knoedler. Rosales’ boyfriend discovered Qian in lower Manhattan who recruited him to make paintings in the style of the Abstract Expressionists.

Strapped for cash, Qian eagerly accepted.

The scheme unraveled when questions about the authenticity of several Motherwells reached the attention of the FBI. The result was a bitter fight which divided professionals and ruined the reputations of many who vouched for the works. Lawsuits were filed and collectors demanded reimbursement.

Last year after Federal prosecutors issued an indictment against him, Qian fled the country. ABC News recently caught up with him in Shanghai.

In an interview with the American news network, Qian claims to have done nothing wrong. He says he never intended for the paintings to be sold as the real thing. “My intent wasn’t for my fake paintings to be sold as the real thing,” Qian said. “They were just copies to put up in your home if you like it.”

“If you look at my bank account, you’ll see there is no income,” he said.

[NY Times: Back Story | The Art Newspaper: Qian Gallery | ABC News: Qian Interview]

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Wait A Minute, Mister Postman

postmanIn advance of its August bankruptcy trial, the City of Detroit commissioned Artvest Partners to appraise the works housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The verdict is in. According to Artvest, the collection is worth between $2.7 and $4.6 billion dollars. (PDF)

The city has over 100,000 creditors and collectively owes them more than $18 billion dollars. If the collection reaches its full potential, it could finance nearly one-fourth of the city’s debt. There’s just one problem. That price tag will never be attained at sale.

Why? Several reasons.

First is volume. The collection totals more than 60,000 pieces. Imagine that many works of fine art hitting the market at once. There will be more value at auction than customers who can afford it.

Second is lawsuits. While the collection is owned by the city and considered an asset, many of its works were donated with intent to remain at DIA. Donor lawsuits will delay transactions and increase sales costs.

Finally, we have a fickle market. The collection spans a large period of time with works from many eras. Tastes change and values fluctuate. Some works will inevitably hit the market at inopportune times.

Still, consider small companies like Detroit-based Federal Pipe & Supply. The city owes them $16,000.00 for contract work. Federal Pipe lived up to its end of the bargain. Detroit must find any means necessary to live up to its end. If that means selling its assets, then so be it. They will end up in the hands of those who are better able to manage them.

[Browse DIA's Most Valuable Works | ArtNews: DIA Collection Worth $4.6 B]

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Is It A Pollock?

The New York Times has an interesting piece about a work that was supposedly given to Ruth Kligman by Jackson Pollock in the summer of 1956. The work has been subject to dispute for quite some time. As Kligman tells it, she brought him materials and he produced the work out on the lawn that summer.  “Here’s your painting,” he said, “your very own Pollock.” Lee Krasner, on the other hand, contests the story. Ruth was having sex with her husband….

[NY Times: A Real Pollock?]

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Detroit Should Sell Its Art

postmanCount me among those who think Detroit should sell its art to help settle its debt obligations.

I love art but at the end of the day, the Postman Joseph Roulin is just canvas with some dried colored oil. That canvas could fetch over 100 million dollars at auction. The proceeds from that sale and others like it could help the city settle its pension obligations and maintain its essential services.

If a city is forced to choose between maintaining its art collection and fulfilling its promises to retirees, the proper course should be obvious. Art is a luxury for those who can afford it. The masterpieces currently housed in the DIA will not be lost. They’ll be transferred to those who can afford to manage them and the city will generate revenue it desperately needs. The general welfare is more important than the public’s art.

It’s true that many works will find their way into private hands and won’t be accessible to the public. That will be an unfortunate event but one that won’t last very long. Among those who have the capacity to purchase Detroit’s finest works of art, few have more than forty years left on this planet. The best works will find their way back into the finest museums. Detroit’s masterpieces will all be available to the public at some point after their sale. They shouldn’t be managed now by a municipality that can’t afford to pay its pensioners and pull people from burning buildings.

Posted in Museums | 2 Comments


Sunrise At Home Again

1913 Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise)A reader alerts me to an interesting sale. Sunrise (122.002) recently sold in Berlin for roughly 800,000 EUR.

Dix painted Sunrise in the late winter of 1913. The work was completed soon after a major Van Gogh exhibition in Dresden. As you can tell from just a cursory glance, it owes much to the influence of the Dutch master.

In 1920 as his star was rising, Dix donated Sunrise to the Dresden city museum. There it would have remained if not for a historic turn of events. In 1933, the NSDAP rose to power. Shortly thereafter, Dix was branded a degenerate and his work was removed from government museums. In 1937, Sunrise was included in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich.

And here’s where the story gets interesting.

Continue reading »

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Detroit Rubble City

detroit rubble cityAs you may have heard, Detroit is not doing so well. The city has $15 billion dollars in long term financial liability and an ever shrinking revenue stream. Its population continues to decline while its 139 square miles does not. Detroit cannot maintain its infrastructure, transport its people or meet its pension obligations. Hiroshima was flattened in 1945 and its doing better than the Motor City. If only Detroit could raise the money it needs to pay its bills.

Hey, whoa! — check it out. They’ve got an entire art museum full of expensive paintings just hanging on walls and stuff:

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering whether the multibillion-dollar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts should be considered city assets that potentially could be sold to cover about $15 billion in debt.

So how much is its art worth?

Museums are not required by federal accounting rules to list their collections as assets. However, at the request of the Free Press, art dealers in New York and metro Detroit reviewed a list of 38 of the greatest masterpieces owned by the museum and estimated a market value of at least $2.5 billion with pieces such as Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” and Matisse’s “The Window” all carrying estimates of between $100 million and $150 million each.

Believe it or not, Michigan residents aren’t thrilled with the idea. Museum quality art is widely regarded as a legacy for future generations. Should today’s sperm be denied tomorrow’s pleasures because the current generation can’t pay its bills?

Randy Richardville, a Michigan state senator and a (WTF?) Republican, doesn’t think so. He is introducing legislature that will protect Detroit’s art from sale. Let’s hope the bill includes funding for climate control and museum lighting.

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Keith Haring on Tumblr

Keith Haring's polaroid selfieTumblr is a short form blog that allows users to post multimedia content. It made a splash this month when it was acquired by Yahoo! for 1.1 billion dollars.

Keith Haring died before the commercial internet captured the popular attention yet it’s not hard to imagine the artist embracing it. Haring kept a journal that documented his life and his work. One could imagine these details on a Haring blog.

That concept is now reality.

The Keith Haring Foundation has started to publish the artist’s journals on Tumblr. The Foundation plans to post the complete series from 1971-1989. Some of the pages already online were featured in the Brooklyn Museum’s retrospective, Keith Haring: 1978-1982. The popularity of that exhibition prompted the Foundation to publish them.

Haring is no longer with us but you can still follow his thoughts as they pop into his head and appear on the contemporary internet.

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One Billyun Dollars!

picassoThose with access to physical paper encountered quite a splash on the cover of this morning’s New York Times. Leonard Lauder, the eldest son of Joseph and Estée Lauder, donated cubist art appraised at approximately $1 billion dollars to the Metropolitan. The collection was donated with no strings attached. The Met may curate the pieces in any manner that suits their sensibilities. A public exhibition is scheduled for Fall 2014.

Art lovers are probably familiar with Leonard’s younger brother, Ronald. He is the owner of the Neue Gallerie on the Upper East Side. That museum sits a few blocks from the future home of Leonard’s cubist masterpieces. Both men started to collect early in life. Ronald bought his first Egon Schiele with bar mitzvah money.

I will say this about the Lauders: they know what they’re doing. A specialized collection is much more interesting than an assortment of art. Ronald specialized in German art in general and German expressionism in particular. This narrow focus produced one of the finest collections of that sort in the world. And while his wealthy peers made big splashes as Christie’s gavels dropped, Leonard quietly built what could possibly be the finest collection of cubism in the world.

While me may take issue with the rules in this game, it’s hard to say they don’t work to the public’s benefit. A private collection is about to go public in one of the finest museums in the country. We’re all slightly richer for it.

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Haring Miami, Now With Free Admission

Free as a bird, now

Haring Miami dropped its admission price this weekend. The exhibition opened Wednesday and featured 175 works by the Pennsylvania artist. Tickets were originally $25.00 through online sales or $30.00 at the door. By Saturday, prices had plunged. Admission fell from $30.00 to free.

To what do we owe this act of benevolence?

There were major authenticity concerns from the Keith Haring Foundation. The group filed an injunction in Miami district court to remove 165 works it feels were improperly attributed to the artist. The suit contained a deadline for action by Friday at 7:00pm. But the deadline passed without a court order and the exhibition continued as planned.

Things changed on Saturday. Judge Marcia G. Cooke ruled in favor of the Haring Foundation. She ordered the removal of 165 questionable works. She also ordered the destruction of all catalogs and brochures for the show. With only ten pieces remaining on its walls, the Design District dropped its prices from $30.00 to free.

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An Art Forger Tells All

Ken Perenyi appears on CBS Sunday Morning.

 

 

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