Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Museum's Anthony M Amore Offers $100,000 For Eagle As He Masters The Art Of The Con

Genuine $100,000 REWARD


The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is offering this reward for information that leads directly to the recovery of this item and guarantees complete confidentiality to any person or persons who come forward.
Please contact Anthony Amore at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at
617 278 5114 or via email at
Your confidentiality is ensured.

'Art of the Con' paints revealing picture of scammed collectors

Late last month, an art dealer named David Carter pled guilty to seven counts of fraud in a British court for passing off cheap bric-a-brac paintings he found on the Internet as originals by Alfred Wallis, an early 20th century painter known for producing marine scenes that toyed with perspective and depth. This comes just weeks after a pair of German men were accused of trying to ply a fake Alberto Giacometti sculpture to an undercover detective. The plot — it's a thick one — involved one of the men's 92-year-old ex-mother-in-law and an infamous Dutch forger who once kept an entire warehouse full of knock-off Giacometti bronzes.
Dip into the news on any given month and chances are you will find similar stories about art world ignominy, from the British copyist churning out oils attributed to Winston Churchill to the Manhattan dealer pushing looted Indian artifacts. There is something irresistible about that point where art and crime intersect: the money, the egos, the jet-set country club types — not to mention all the talk about provenance and brush strokes and craquelure (those cracks that form in the varnish of painting as it ages).
Anthony M. Amore would know a thing or two about the world of art swindles. For the last decade, he has served as head of security at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was famously robbed in 1990 of several Rembrandts and a Vermeer. Three years ago he published, with investigative journalist Tom Mashberg, the book "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Story of Notorious Art Heists," which explored the colorful history of thefts of works by the 17th century Dutch master, an activity that has involved machine guns and speed boats.
Now Amore is back with a new book that explores similar territory. "The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World" looks at some of the most high-profile cases of art skulduggery from the last couple of decades. Each chapter tells the story of a single case, such as that of convicted German art counterfeiter Wolfgang Beltracchi, whose faked canvases based on the works of surrealist Max Ernst and modernist Heinrich Campendonk were so well executed that they successfully fooled even the artists' families (as well as actor Steve Martin, who unwittingly purchased a bogus Campendonk).
Likewise, there's the tale of West Hollywood gallerist Tatiana Khan, who claimed to be dealing works from the collection of the late real estate mogul Malcolm Forbes and who, at age 70, was busted by the FBI in a wild web of lies after selling a fake Picasso for $2 million. By the time the authorities caught up with her, she was in ill health, living in a jumbled house stuffed full of sculptures and antiques — like some sort of frayed "Miss Havisham character," writes Amore. (She ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to five years probation.)

In this manner, "Art of the Con" takes the reader through a whole spectrum of cases, from the high to the low. There is the esteemed New York art dealer who ended up in jail after deceiving a star-spangled array of high-profile clients. And there's the case of the couple from La CaƱada Flintridge who produced unauthorized ink jet prints of lesser-known artists' works for a fraud operation that extended into the world of cruise ship auctions. (Surreal and enlightening.)
While Amore recounts each of the cases efficiently from beginning to end, what's missing is more psychology. Early on in the book, he notes that a good art con isn't just about creating a good fake, it's about inventing a probable narrative to go with it: "The art of art scams is in the backstory," he writes, "not in the picture itself."
And while he diligently conveys some of these backstories (down to the vintage family photos faked by one forger), he overlooks some big-picture questions: What makes something art? Why is art such an entrancing symbol of power? What kind of person flips a $17-million painting by Jackson Pollock as an investment? And why are so many people so willing to ignore the warning signs of a sham deal?
"Art of the Con" is methodically researched and reported but does little to illuminate the process of seduction that takes place when it comes to acquiring art. Buyers can do their due diligence: They can check the provenance, they can analyze the market, they can consult with the pedigreed experts. But there comes a point in many deals where acquisition is guided entirely by intangibles such as status and beauty and a desire to possess — not to mention a healthy dose of greed. Ultimately, it is in this messy gray area that a more compelling story could have been mined and told.
The Art of the Con
The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World
Anthony M. Amore
Palgrave Macmillan: 272 pp., $26

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Yin V Yang

‘Master Thieves’ and ‘The Art of the Con’

The Gardner Museum thieves cut the artworks out of their frames during the 1990 robbery. Credit From "Master Thieves"
On March 18, 1990, at 1:20 in the ­morning, two men dressed in police uniforms demanded entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. When the guard at the front desk complied, they bound him and his partner in handcuffs. “This is a robbery,” the intruders announced. “Don’t give us any problems, and you won’t get hurt.” The senior guard was quick to respond. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They don’t pay me enough to get hurt.”
Inadequate funding was just one of many problems undermining security at the museum when it was hit with the greatest art theft in history. Bequeathed to the city of Boston by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1924, the art-filled palazzo had scarcely been renovated since her death, restricted by a will prohibiting significant changes. Nor were the guards well chosen: One of the night watchmen often ­conducted rounds while high on marijuana. His partner used the vacant museum for trombone practice.
As Stephen Kurkjian shows in “Master Thieves,” the museum’s inadequacies were matched only by the thieves’ carelessness. Major artworks by Rembrandt, including “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” were thrown on the floor to break their protective glass, and then sliced out of their frames with knives. Though a first-rate Vermeer was also part of the haul, the Gardner’s most valuable work, Titian’s “Rape of Europa,” was completely ignored. Instead the thieves nabbed some of the museum’s most trivial objects, like an ancient Chinese vase worth a few thousand dollars.
“This was not a surgical strike,” ­Kurkjian writes with understatement, dismissing the popular notion “that there was a ‘Doctor No’ figure who had commissioned the heist to get his hands on a favored painting.” Working as an investigative reporter for The Boston Globe, Kurkjian has spent much of the past couple of decades trying to figure out who the crooks were and what they were after.
He’s hardly been alone in this endeavor. Ranking the Gardner theft as one of the world’s Top 10 art thefts, the F.B.I. has continuously investigated the heist for the past 25 years. Yet despite countless man-hours and a $5 million reward offered by the Gardner’s trustees, the paintings have stubbornly remained out of sight. More than just a summation of all that’s publicly known about the case — from the thieves’ false mustaches to the F.B.I.’s sting operations — Kurkjian’s book is an impressive attempt to solve the crime by reconsidering the evidence.
Kurkjian does so by focusing on potential motives, starting with a bit of Boston street wisdom, supplemented by an anonymous tip. “During the Mob’s heyday in Boston,” he writes, “just about every criminal in the city believed that the return of a valuable stolen artwork could shorten a prison sentence or even make it go away.” In 1989, that wisdom was put into action when a powerful gangster named Vincent Ferrara was convicted of racketeering. Needing his protection from a rival Boston gang, a fellow mobster named Robert Donati orchestrated the heist, Kurkjian believes, in order to put Ferrara back on the street. However, according to Kurkjian, the overwhelming response to the theft forced Donati to hide the stolen art. Then he was murdered, and the paintings have been missing ever since. And so when it comes to locating them today, Kurkjian surmises, the intricacies of long-ago gang warfare “might just unlock the mystery.”
It’s a plausible theory, if not incontrovertible, and Kurkjian has shared it with the F.B.I. and the Gardner Museum’s head of security, Anthony M. Amore. There’s reason to believe that Amore might be sympathetic, judging from how he characterizes art theft in his own new book, “The Art of the Con”: “High-value paintings are rarely stolen by crooks that can be characterized as professional art thieves,” he writes. “The reason for this is simple: Highly valuable and recognizable masterpieces . . . are exceptionally difficult to fence.” From the thief’s perspective, priceless art is worthless. “The art of art theft is said to be in the selling of the art, not the thievery,” Amore elaborates, comparing it with the art of fraud, which he claims “is in the back story, not in the picture itself.”
And fraud is the central subject of “The Art of the Con.” Following the formula of his first book, “Stealing Rembrandts,” Amore has compiled an assortment of old cases, rehashing past crimes. Some will be familiar to newspaper readers. (One chapter recapitulates the forgery scandal that led to the 2011 closure of Knoedler & Company, one of New York’s most venerable galleries.) Others are obscure for good reason. (Another chapter describes how a Los Angeles art dealer named Tatiana Khan passed off a forged Picasso pastel, claiming it came from the Malcolm Forbes collection. She was caught and convicted, end of story.) Amore brings little insight to these case histories, assembling his narratives from newspaper articles, court records and the occasional interview with law enforcement colleagues.
Nevertheless, some frauds are so interesting that even Amore’s bland retelling can’t quash them. For the manipulation of back story — or provenance, as art professionals call it — few can best Ely Sakhai. In the 1990s, Sakhai began buying second-rate paintings by first-rate Impressionists, purchasing at auction in New York. He would have each of these ­artworks meticulously replicated (including the back of the canvas and frame) by a team of Chinese copyists. Then he would sell the copy with the original certificate of authenticity and auction record to a Japanese collector. Later he would have the original reauthenticated and resell it in New York.
Wolfgang Beltracchi was even more creative in his fabrication of provenance — as he had to be, since his forgeries were never direct copies. Beltracchi specialized in Modernists. Studying their style and using period materials, he would paint the masters’ “unpainted works” (as he provocatively phrased it), contributing new art to their oeuvres.
In order to explain the sudden appearance of undocumented masterpieces, Beltracchi cast his wife’s deceased grandfather as a prewar German collector, claiming that the seller was the German Jewish dealer Alfred Flechtheim, whose records were lost during the Third Reich. (Beltracchi supported this provenance by sticking fake Flechtheim Gallery labels on the back of his paintings.) Hundreds of Beltracchi’s forgeries were sold in the 1990s and 2000s, often at public auction, for prices as high as several million ­dollars. One fake was exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What brought Beltracchi down was neither connoisseurship nor historical research but the detection of an anachronistic pigment in one of his paintings.

Amore attributes Beltracchi’s feat of deception to skill with paint and ­cleverness with provenance. Less obviously, he credits Beltracchi’s all-­encompassing ego. “In fact, his hubris may have been the essential part of his success,” Amore writes. It’s a point worth considering: Can a kind of greatness be attained through delusions of grandeur?
But if hubris is intoxicating to the art forger, it’s toxic for an art investigator. All of Amore’s stories end in punishment, an unrealistic representation of criminal activity. More misleadingly, Amore presents scientific analysis as an infallible new weapon against fraud. In fact, investigators’ overconfidence in scientific detection techniques has been exploited by forgers for at least the past century.
Hubris may even be what’s holding up the Gardner Museum investigation. Kurkjian revealingly shows how the F.B.I. has systematically shut out lower echelons of law enforcement like the Boston police, despite their superior knowledge of local gangs. Journalists are held in equal contempt: Kurkjian reports that neither the F.B.I. nor Amore has bothered to follow up on his investigation of Robert Donati’s surviving contacts and family.
What makes Kurkjian’s book so gripping is precisely the quality lacking in Amore’s: an accomplished investigator’s sense of open-minded humility.