Fakes and fake letters of authenticity

Dear Kobi —

I appreciated your tales from Chapter 13 of the wonderful variety and diversity of Picasso fakes and fake letters of authenticity.

I assisted in the publicity regarding a bad guy named ABC, whom I exposed on my website www.milwaukeeworld.com for foisting some fake Picassos on the public. I was able to examine the fakes and the fake certificates of authenticity. You can learn a lot from forgeries, as you obviously know.

ABC did some time, but appears to be active in Florida. I have heard from many, many people who have either 1.) bought a fake and wish they had gone to my website first, or 2.) went to my website first and did not buy the fake.

I’m no expert, but some people seem staggeringly naive when it comes to art purchases. Yes, I’ve bought a few paintings and drawings (non-Picasso) when a bit liquored up, but I did my research beforehand.

Good luck with your projects.
Michael H

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the kind words. By the way, how is it that you perused our site if you don’t collect Picassos? -Kobi

Dear Dr. Ledor —
You certainly may post my stuff on your website Q&A section. If you go to my website and use the internal search engine for ABC, you’ll find a number of items I posted on the guy. I wrote about him on May 17, 2004, Oct 04, 2004, November 15, 2004, November 22 2004, January 3 2005, January 17, 2004 and March 28, 2005. He’s probably due for another one.

I got word this morning that the FBI is getting quite tired of ABC, and a special agent here in Milwaukee is itching to bring him down. The agent is James Doyle, and he has worked on art cases. (Check out what I wrote about DEF on Halloween. She’s doing time in Club Fed.)

I started writing art fraud / theft stories because of my interest in the subject. It occupies about a tenth of my space — public demand is high, and I feel like I am doing a service. Ostensibly I write about politics; I have been called a gossip columnist and I am ignored by talk radio. I am forever late writing history stories, for which there is a demand. I tell my editor, “history takes time.”

You might want to check out a guy named GHI. The daily papers ignored his crimes, and I wrote stuff on the website until they finally relented — way too late. Then I researched an article for Milwaukee Magazine that put him down for good. His biggest mistake — selling a stolen print to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Don’t mess with Bud Selig! Sentencing is in May.

I’m tight with a number of dealers here (except the ones I send to jail). I’ve learned a few tricks that the forgers use, too. One dealer had a stash of 19c watermarked paper that could be converted into an original Whistler print in no time. I have a close affiliation with a Russian-born conservator Dmitri Rybchnikov (I think I messed up the spelling of his name.) He has an outfit called American Conservators, and he was the expert witness in the ABC trial. Not just fakes, but “laughable” fakes. His partner, Jeff Farkas, deals in paintings of various levels of quality, and his wife is a professor of Criminology, and was the teacher of FBI agent Doyle. I’ve got a Bierstadt in the office right now on loan from Jeff, who is trying to sell it on behalf of the owners. We’ve created a little gallery upstairs in my very large office space. I have no financial interest in it; it’s just fun to have this stuff around.

If you want to read some stories about rich people being wasteful with foundation money, read my stuff about the JKL Foundation, a local outfit with one of the finest collections of American furniture and decorative arts. These guys hate my guts. They did do a good show — Fakes from the JKL Collection. Great detective work.

You ask about my background — I studied art history and political science at Vassar College, where I was among the first male students. I also took studio courses and learned the techniques of wood and steel engraving, etching, aquatint, and even stone lithography. I spent my spare time going to museums and galleries to look at authentic works of art. I do not believe I have ever knowingly passed by a museum without entering. I’ve seen prints by the thousands, and still get excited by them. So, I can say stuff like, “Chagall’s later hand-colored works are inconsistent.” For crying out loud, Jackson Pollock applied pigment with more control than seen in Chagall’s later prints.

I came to writing quite late in life, having been turned down consistently until I lucked out at age 34 (1988) and they haven’t been able to shut me up since. I was also fortunate that some family friends were collectors. I saw my first Magrittes, Ernsts, Miros, Jasper Johnses in a private residence as a teenager. The portrait of the woman of the house was by Warhol. I remember her writing to Alexander Calder to get permission to repaint her Calder sculpture. I remember a David Smith sculpture from her back yard, and saw it in the National Gallery in October. Heady stuff!
I collect mostly drawings by Wisconsin artists. It’s a fun pursuit. I bought a $500 painting done by a local musician — it was the first painting he had sold, and I was tipsy for that one. I hung it in my house, and an art dealer noticed it and raved about my discovery.

I came rather late in life to the earning of an income (which does not come from writing, let me tell you). I am employed by Zigman Joseph Stephenson, an old-line Public Relations and Governmental Relations firm.

Just to finish my babbling, I am distressed by the gullibility of certain art purchasers and the rapacity of the fraudsters. There is so much decent art work, and so many legitimate dealers that I just cringe when an idiot buys junk from a thief. I think the true joy and value in collecting comes from knowing about what you are buying. It just astounds me that people will spend thousands on an item that upon cursory examination is not right. I would happily be fooled by a good fake, but I am insulted by cheap fakes.

If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Very truly yours,
Michael H

Dear Michael,

You are truly hilarious, not to mention an altruist. But I have now calculated, based upon your figures, that I am one year older than you, so I hope you start treating me with greater respect. I must say that you made a much wiser decision in going to Vassar just after it went co-ed than my opting to attend Yale right after it underwent the same transformation. The difference was that yours was a predominantly female student body with a few curious boys and mine a predominantly male student body with a few heavily picked-over girls. So it goes. I was a late bloomer anyway and wouldn’t have known what to do with any more girls around….

I’m going to wade through your entire site and the specific links you’ve sent when I have a chance. I also plan on blogging everything you’ve sent me, not only for its content but also for the wonderfully endearing and humorous quality of your prose.

By the way, could you send pix of your discoveries, such as the unknown Wisconsin artist? Contrary to the prevailing opinion that for me there’s only Picasso, I have quite varied artistic tastes, and I’m always interested in beholding new talent….

And, dude, call me Kobi!

4 thoughts on “Fakes and fake letters of authenticity”

  1. Dear Michael, You are truly hilarious, not to mention an altruist. But I have now calculated, based upon your figures, that I am one year older than you, so I hope you start treating me with greater respect. I must say that you made a much wiser decision in going to Vassar just after it went co-ed than my opting to attend Yale right after it underwent the same transformation. The difference was that yours was a predominantly female student body with a few curious boys and mine a predominantly male student body with a few heavily picked-over girls. So it goes. I was a late bloomer anyway and wouldn’t have known what to do with any more girls around….

    I’m going to wade through your entire site and the specific links you’ve sent when I have a chance. I also plan on blogging everything you’ve sent me, not only for its content but also for the wonderfully endearing and humorous quality of your prose.

    By the way, could you send pix of your discoveries, such as the unknown Wisconsin artist? Contrary to the prevailing opinion that for me there’s only Picasso, I have quite varied artistic tastes, and I’m always interested in beholding new talent….

    And, dude, call me Kobi!

  2. I’m glad I’ve found you guys. I get tired of telling anyone who will listen that Kennedy sells fakes and that the 347’s that are not quite right are heliogravures. I was in a frame shop in Chicago on Randolph just off the Kennedy(no relation) expressway a couple of years ago where I spied a stack of 9 impressions of the Picasso “Vallouris” black and white bullfight linocut edition of 200 posters , signed and numbered in red crayon. I asked an employee about them and he said, “Oh, those are Jim Kennedy’s edition”. A few weeks later a client told me he entered the same shop where a man was signing and numbering Chagall lithographs and offered one for $300. This was before the bust in Wisconsin and the publicity on Kennedy. I have on several occaisions been asked to look at Picassos purchased from Kennedy and never have I seen a good one. He has intimated to an acquaintance that I had better watch out because “He knew some very bad people”. Whatever that means. The guy is still active and on the loose, to my knowledge.

    There is a new offending gallery in town selling way overpriced Chagalls and Picasso heliogravures as authentics. Can we hear from anyone else who has seen the fakes?

    Is there a place, or can we make this place a forum to share info on the fakes? The IFAR people are expensive and, in truth, a group of mostly New York dealers with plenty to gain from whatever it is they do in the name of righteousness. I am interested in Picasso, and I am always learning more. I have been handling his graphics since 1977. I like other Moderns and I represent contemporary Modernists. -Peter B.

  3. Thanks, Peter, for sharing your invaluable experience. To answer your question, apart from IFAR (the International Foundation for Art Research), I too don’t know of any other organization which provides information about fakes and forgeries. And I agree that their fee schedule is not for the faint at heart. The absence of a free and easily accessible forum for the exchange of information and thoughts specifically about Picasso, but also about general problems such as fraud that plague the entire art market, is one of the main reasons I created our forum. Presumably, art collectors would prefer the absence of affiliation of such a forum with me or, for that matter, with any other art dealer, in order to eliminate any potential conflict of interest. Given the absence to date of an unaffiliated clearinghouse for such commentary, I would be honored if our forum/blog were used for such an exchange of information and thoughts by default. Of course, for liability reasons I’ve regrettably had to render our Art Fraud blog rather toothless by extracting the names of people or entities whom this blog’s contributors have cast in a negative light. Too bad….-Kobi

  4. Dear Kobi, This fake issue is one that will probably come to a head soon. ABC is the supplier of the heliogravures to the local gallery that sold my client. I would like to share with you the email my client got from the gallery after he returned the print (Bloch #1493).

    Dear Mr. xxxxxxxxx
    :Eva and I had a chance to think after the excitement of Monday night the 27th.

    Some things have come up that appear to be a credibility gap with your expert. For one thing the measurement of this Picasso is exact with Kornfeld Catalog – Picasso Peintre – Graveur and the 2004 updated Bloch Catalog.

    The sizes in the old Bloch Catalog were rounded off. The Kornfeld Catalog has become the bible because it is the reference for Picasso etchings. Did your expert know how to measure a Picasso etching, you always measure it from the back.

    Another accusation was that this graphic is not printed on Rives paper, but in fact it is, anyone in a stationary store can show you a sheet of Vellum and you can then compare the difference between the two. I wonder why your expert can’t.

    As far as pictures in a book are concerned , every catalog’s pictures of this graphic are different. While Picasso was known for his fine line his later etchings like the 347 Suite are very strong and often a deep set line. You cannot judge an etching produced by a master with a black and copy in a book. Your expert should know that.

    What I communicated to you in this e-mail makes me think, whom am I defending my reputation from, when this person knows nothing about prints.

    Please let me know what you want. You are welcome to come in and measure for yourself. I suppose I could get you an appraisal from an expert but I will have to charge you for that service.

    Sometimes a piece of paper from an expert can be comforting. If we get to a point of giving a refund you would have to reveal the name of your expert. We take this type of accusation very seriously. We are a young gallery, but we are old timers in the business of fine art. We have learned from the best in the industry. Combined we have 35 years of experience with offers to work in prestigious London galleries.

    I look forward to hear and see you to resolve this matter.

    Best Regards, Tim and Eva

    end of quote: They also went on to say: The person they bought the Picasso from is DEF and her source is in Barcelona, they have told me the way to truly authenticate it is to send it to Barcelona and they will compare it to another copy. They do not think there is anyone here in Chicago that can truly authenticate it.

    What do you make of that? What can I say to my client to convince him that they are incorrect?

    As for my “underworld contact”, the sad fact is that he is a guy I’ve known for years with rather weak moral fiber who has given in to temptation (boy, do I sound Catholic or what?) and taken the risk of selling known and dubious fake prints. If my own record were not spotless, I would not dare associate with him. He is well known to the FBI and has served time. He is therefore extremely interested in seeing that no one else can get away with that which he did not. He knows all the fakes and fakers. He also told me that several prominent galleries have been selling the 347’s including GHI, JKL, and MNO in San Francisco.
    Bear in mind that this source is a shifty guy himself; he is very self-serving. I tend to believe him because he is bitter that he has gone to jail for doing what others seem to get away with.

    One humorous anecdote, at least to me, was the time he called me a couple of months after he got out on parole. He was rather upset, “I just got my XXXXX [one of the top NY auction houses] print auction catalogue, and I’m really pissed. You know they testified as expert witnesses at my hearing before I plead guilty. Well, in this catalogue are two Miro s that I Signed! I couldn’t help but laugh and tell him he helped create the problem. Anyway, he tried and tried for years to turn in people selling fakes, but nobody cared or wanted to listen to him, a known convicted felon. Since then I have seen a lot of it, and in the environment of no visible law enforcement, he seems to have fallen back into his old ways.

    ABC is a key distributor, and her husband uses threats of physical violence to silence complaints. There is someone in Milan, Barcelona, and a MNO in Florida. They are all players in this. I have met with the Feds and given my opinion on the heliogravures. There are also fake Lichenstein and Haring prints circulated by the same outfit. -Peter B.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.