As the Knoedler Saga Spreads, Who Decides What's a Fake?
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office have officially deemed a group of artworks — supplied by Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales and sold by the now defunct Knoedler Gallery to various clients — as fakes. Rosales, who was arrested in May and charged with wire fraud and money laundering, is being held in a Manhattan jail without bail. Last week, prosecutors added to the charges, unsealing a seven-count indictment. In part, it read, “the painting Rosales sold were fake, that is not by the hand of the artists that she represented them to be; Rosales knew that the paintings were counterfeit and that the statements she made about their provenance were false.”
Rosales’s attorney, Anastasios Sarikas, declined comment. She was arraigned on July 19 and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The next scheduled conference is on October 1.
A key question in the Knoedler affair is now who gets to determine that the works in question are, indeed, fake. And, BLOUIN ARTINFO has learned that in the case of one of the defendants at least, challenging this determination is an emerging strategy.
How has the case about the fakes been made so far? Roughly half-a-dozen multimillion-dollar lawsuits have been filed against parties including Rosales, Knoedler, and its former president Ann Freedman, who handled the sales of most of the works in question. The lawsuits all note that (using the words of the FBI indictment), “the purported Swiss client on whose behalf [Rosales] purported to sell most of the paintings to the Manhattan galleries never existed.” Many of the plaintiffs further relied on scientific analysis carried out by highly esteemed forensic conservator James Martin, whose Williamstown, Mass.-business Orion Analytical, “investigates the structure and chemical composition of materials comprising cultural property,” according to the company’s website.
In all of the related cases, albeit with some variation on each work, Martin found inconsistencies between the supposed dates the paintings were created and the materials used to create them. For instance, in examining a purported untitled 1950 Jackson Pollock painting that a collector paid $17 million for, Orion’s report noted that “analysis of materials used to create [the work]… revealed physical evidence that certain materials are inconsistent with and evidently irreconcilable with the claimed attributes that Jackson Pollock painted in 1950 — or any other date.” The case was settled on confidential terms late last year.
Another $25-million lawsuit over an allegedly fake Rothko, brought by former Gucci executive Domenico de Sole, his wife Eleanor, and their daughter Laura, included a forensic report from Orion in which Martin wrote: “In spite of the signature ‘Mark Rothko,’ and date ‘1956,’ materials and techniques used to create the Painting are inconsistent and irreconcilable with the claim that Untitled was painted by Mark Rothko…in 1956 or any other date.”
A more recent suit was brought last month by collector John Howard over a $3.5-million work purportedly by Willem de Kooning, purchased in 2007. The painting was found to contain “one or more materials that are not found in works of art created at the time that Knoedler and Freedman represented that the work was created…contains materials that are found in other forgeries sold by Knoedler…and contains one or more materials that were not commercially available at the time that Knoedler and Freedman represented the work was created.”
For her part, Freedman has frequently pointed out that paint producers often gave paints to artists to experiment with before they were commercially available. But many observers are skeptical that this could be the case with so many paintings.
Martin declined to comment on whether he has conducted scientific analysis of any of the works on behalf of the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s office, citing “confidential aspects of the lawsuits [and] criminal investigations.” But it’s hard to imagine he has not weighed in. According to the Orion website, Martin “has assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 1994, and taught paint analysis and infrared spectroscopy at the FBI Counter-terrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit between 2002 and 2008.”
(When asked about their methods of determining fakes, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said that it doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations. The FBI press office had not returned a request for comment at press time.)
In what is likely to surprise many art world experts, the attorney for Ann Freedman plans to challenge Orion’s findings in court. “Our experts are presently analyzing the works, but one thing is already clear: Orion’s expert reports are not worth the paper they’re written on. Because of their fundamental flaws, no Orion report should be admitted into evidence in any of the Knoedler cases,” Nicholas Gravante Jr., of Boies, Schiller & Flexner wrote in an emailed statement. He declined, however, to identify which experts he and Freedman have enlisted to examine the works.
Further, says Gravante, “If the works are proven to be forgeries, Ann Freedman is a victim. She believed in these works, obtained affirmations of their authenticity from the foremost experts in the world, purchased three of the works for her private art collection, and expended significant resources researching them.”