Uncommon Sense

February 27, 2021

Made You Look—A Documentary

Filed under: Art,Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:33 am
Tags: , ,

Last night I watched an interesting documentary about a massive art fraud in New York City. In the late 1990s and much of 2000s $80 million of fake paintings were sold as if legitimate. The pieces had sketchy provenance, so they were often “authenticated” by experts.

This is a fascinating documentary, well done, but a number of points were never mentioned or were glossed over.

The Authenticating “Experts” Were Full of Shit
Various experts were asked to “authenticate” these paintings and often did so wholeheartedly, even though they turned out to be fakes. This process has been shown to be flawed over and over but keeps being used. If a new painting is discovered, one not seen in catalogues of the artist’s works, an expert should go no further than to comment something along the lines of “It appears to be in this artist’s style and the painting appears to be of an appropriate age.” That’s it. But these “experts” were stumbling all over themselves to state that the paintings were authentic, something that couldn’t be told without extensive testing. When the extensive testing was done, some of the pigments hadn’t been invented until after the artist died, which is kind of a clue, don’t you think?

The experts basically should limit there comments on a previously unknown painting to “is worth further testing.”

Collectors were Glowing About the Fakes
When the fakes were purchased, the new owners loved those paintings, gushed about how beautiful they were, etc. so they were good art, no? But when they were proved to be fakes the collectors were outraged. Clearly they were not buying art for the sake of the art. They, instead, wanted to brag about how much money it cost, or that it was painted by a famous painter, or looked at it as an investment, but these people never say things like: ”It was such a good bargain, I could see myself selling it for a nice profit is just a few years.” or “I wanted to snatch this up before a bidding war started. It will be much more valuable in time.” So, these hypocrites gush over the quality of the painting but are outraged when they find out that it was faked. Apparently they can distinguish between fake beauty and real beauty . . . not.

This Has Been Going On for Years
This was mentioned a couple of times. It was not a surprise to find out that the forger/painter was a Chinese gentleman. Whether he was a willing participant in the fraud was not determined because there is a tradition in China of copying other works (and not just China). These copies are often sold quite cheaply to people who could not come close to affording the real thing. Much like we have posters of famous art works to hang on our plebian walls. It was suspicious, of course, the lengths gone to to use period and artist correct materials, which would not be necessary for “decorative art pieces.”

Art students are often seen in museums copying masterworks as exercises. And when the originals are being sold for millions, the temptation is there. In this case the works copied were those of American Expressionists (not my cup of tea) which are random enough to be more easily copied, also materials of the age these were created (1950s and 1960s) are still available.

Fueling all of this were prices of hundreds of thousands paid by the art dealer for paintings that sold for much more, even millions. This was a point critics say should have cause alarms to go off, but since greed is the driving force of this age, no one noticed anything sketchy for over a decade.


  1. Experts” Were Full of Shit”.. That has been my point on every point since my atheism.


    Comment by jim- — February 27, 2021 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  2. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m a furniture maker, mostly Arts & Crafts style, (well I turned into a woodturner but that’s another story). I’ve done a lot of research on Stickley, mission style furniture, etc. so I know a bit about how old furniture was made. When we haunted antique shops before the virus hit I’d estimate that at least 75% or more of the “antique” furniture we saw was fake. The color of the woods doesn’t match, it used modern glues instead of hide glues, types of nails and screws that weren’t developed until 50 years later being used, cast white metal handles sloppily coated with paint and being sold as “hand wrought iron”, obviously machine made dovetails. I suspect a lot of the shop owners didn’t even know, nor would they care if you pointed it out to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — February 27, 2021 @ 4:35 pm | Reply

    • I didn’t know that! I was a bit of a woodworker in my day and I love … love … Arts and Crafts style homes and furniture.

      You may be aware of a book called The Furniture Doctor, which if you haven’t read, I recommend to you wholeheartedly. The author George Grotz tells the story of how he got a job at a furniture refinishing shop and when he had earned enough to purchase a belt sander, he decided to use on a “cherry” table submitted to the shop. Mr. Grotz was outraged to learn that the cherry table was made of poplar (I think, I am working from memory) but his boss said “Oh no, the owner brought in a cherry table and will take home a cherry table.” Ths began his education into furniture fakery.

      I now live in a high rise condo, so I gave away all of my woodworking tools (actually I am still giving them away) so my only projects are in my mind.

      I envy you that you can still work wood. (In my mind there is nothing smoother than a freshly planed piece of hardwood. Just beats out baby’s butts.)

      On Sat, Feb 27, 2021 at 4:35 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — March 18, 2021 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

      • I haven’t seen the book but I’ll have to look it up. The “cherry” table story is a classic!


        Comment by grouchyfarmer — March 18, 2021 @ 10:13 pm | Reply

  3. Like US politics after Citizens United, the art world/market went weapons grade stupid after art could be squeezed through pleasant tax breaks.


    Comment by john zande — February 27, 2021 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

    • I have been granted a life long enough to see everything in my country turn to shit. I wonder, can you compost a country?

      On Sat, Feb 27, 2021 at 5:31 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — March 18, 2021 @ 12:50 pm | Reply

      • Sure, but the trick is to keep planting things on yourself as you’re composting.


        Comment by john zande — March 19, 2021 @ 4:04 am | Reply

        • Planting things? Sounds like Republican dirty tricks.

          On Fri, Mar 19, 2021 at 4:04 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — March 19, 2021 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  4. Maybe there are no fakes.


    Since the pandemic it seems like I’ve watched a couple of movies and documentaries with forgery as a theme. Feeling myself somewhat fake 🙂 perhaps explains my fascination with the topic.

    Of course, not just art. The Hitler diaries. The autobiography of Howard Hughes. We might even count the creative accounting of companies like Enron as part of the art form.


    Comment by James Cross — March 2, 2021 @ 9:56 am | Reply

    • Maybe they convinced themselves they were “Lying for Jesus” so it was okay.

      On the streets there are people selling knock off Gucci this and Rolex that. It has been going on as long as there have been buyers and sellers.

      On Tue, Mar 2, 2021 at 9:56 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — March 2, 2021 @ 10:15 am | Reply

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