Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Scandal in Oils

A scandal is rocking the art world. More than 30 forgeries were sold as originals for millions of dollars, and two art dealers are involved — Glafira Rosales, who for 15 years passed fakes on to Ann Freedman, the longtime director of Knoedler & Company. A law suit involving the sale of one of the paintings has begun in New York. The fraudulent works bear the names of noted Abstract Expressionists — Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko to name two. The paintings had actually been done by a Chinese immigrant in Queens.

But more scandalous to me is the value placed on these paintings, which I can’t imagine will retain the esteem in future generations they currently enjoy. One of the fakes, for example, ostensibly painted by Rothko — the one involved in the law suit — is nothing but two rectangles, a black one over a red one. It sold for $8.3 million.

I don’t question a work of art being a commodity — if only Van Gogh could have sold a few of his paintings for anything resembling what they sell for today, instead of trading them for meals at the local cafĂ© in Arles.

But art works today are like chips in a poker game, or shares of a stock. Their value is determined by “connoisseurs” and dealers, who play the game for all it’s worth. And the game is more the artist’s name than what’s on the canvas. (One of the fakes, incidentally, was a drip painting allegedly by Jackson Pollock on which his name was misspelled “Pollok.”)

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. My eye finds it impossible to behold beauty in two rectangles. But what do I know? I’m still enthralled by Albert Bierstadt’s painting of the Rockies at sunset.


  1. I'm glad you brought attention to the madness of art prices, made even more insane by forgeries. Next, take on the price of Baseball World Series tickets, which we may be lusting after this year.

  2. I'm with you on the "What do I know?" I often look at art like "Hmmmmmmm????" yet I do appreciate artist's making a living from their creativity...even a really really good living...but 8.3million I'm not the one lol

  3. Have you ever sat in front of a Rothko? There is a certain serenity that takes place as you absorb the painting. And it is his coloring that is truly magnificent. Painters like Pollack and Kandinsky create whole worlds in their paintings that light up our imaginations, worlds we would not be exposed to otherwise. It also serves to understand these painters in the context of art history, how much they thought outside of the box at the time. Perhaps I will never hold them in as high regard as Van Gogh, and there is an price bubble growing in the art world that will probably bust down the line, but ultimately it is about how art connects with you even more so than the skill involved.