The Art of the Con by Anthony M. Amore
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $26
Gardner Museum director of security Anthony Amore knows art theft, the subject of his first book, Stealing Rembrandts. But art crime encompasses more than headline-making heists. Here, we meet forgers who copy actual paintings and fake “unknown” works of famous artists. Amore details the snakelike slithering of these dishonest dealers, as well as the naive decisions of the art-hungry buyers.
They include the dastardly Wolfgang Beltracchi, who used a vintage camera to photograph his wife posing as her own grandmother with supposedly surrealist works he’d painted himself; having thus established provenance, he sold them for outrageous sums. One even hung brazenly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the talented charlatan was eventually outed by an analysis of the too-modern paint.
Then there’s Ely Sakhai, a seemingly benign donor to Jewish charities concerned with looted Nazi art. He made millions hiring Chinese immigrants to copy paintings he owned by Chagall, Renoir, Monet and—going way back—Rembrandt. But when Christie’s and Sotheby’s each found themselves with a version of the same Gauguin, the FBI came calling.
Even the upper crustiest galleries can fall victim to cons. New York’s Knoedler & Company had dealings with a suspiciously named “Mr. X,” and its president Ann Freedman bought a Jackson Pollock signed “Pollok.” Such scandals caused the gallery to close after 165 years. In page-turning prose, Amore shows how often a small, stupid mistake brings scams to light.
From page 193: But phony paintings live a different life. They hang on walls in homes, galleries, and even museums. They are like amateur boxers, jutting out their glass jaws and daring the observer to punch.