Commentary: The art of the fake

Alan Elsner,, 10/5/12

A couple of recent books, one a memoir and the other a novel, illustrate our fascination with the arcane world of art forgery. Perhaps, in this Internet age, when so much can be cut and pasted, recycled, refurbished and refitted, and so little seems to be truly original, the subject of how to produce a master forgery that will fool all the experts seems particularly relevant. The recent news story sensationally announcing the discovery of a fragment of ancient Coptic papyrus referring to "Jesus' wife" is a case in point. It didn't take more than a few days for Vatican experts to denounce the discovery as a fake. Whether it is or not, I do not pretend to know. How can one know what is true and what is fake? The fact is, we crave authenticity -- in our presidents, our actors, our reality stars who are not real. And we're never quite sure when we've found it.


Related: The greatest fake-art scam in history?

Joshua Hammer, Vanity Fair magazine Web Exclusive, 10/10/12

One of his forgeries hung in a show at the Met [Museum]. Steve Martin bought another of his fake paintings. Others have sold at auction for multi-million-dollar prices. Wolfgang Beltracchi masterminded one of the most audacious and lucrative art frauds in postwar European history. For decades, this self-taught painter passed off his own paintings as newly discovered masterpieces by Expressionists and Surrealists. [His wife] Helene, along with two accomplices, sold the paintings for six and seven figures through auction houses, including Sotheby's and Christie's. For the 14 fakes the Beltracchis were eventually charged with selling, their estimated take was around $22 million. Their total haul must have been far more. The Beltracchis' trial began on September 1, 2011. From the start, says a correspondent from Der Spiegel, the proceedings were a "farce." Much of the media portrayed the couple as fun-loving hipsters and admirable renegades. The prosecution's case was weakened by [a] lack of evidence. On October 27, the judge announced the sides had reached a deal, and terminated the proceedings. In a long, ramblingly theatrical confession, Beltracchi described his youthful indulgences in "drugs and rock 'n' roll," attacked the "greed" and "arrogance" of the art market, and admitted that the deception had been "great fun." Wolfgang [has] already begun to re-invent himself. He recently launched a Web site [selling paintings drawn] upon Beltracchi's "dramatic experiences" at his trial and in prison. One already completed work [has been sold] to a German collector for $12,500.


Classical music agency chief escapes jail for massive U.S. fraud

Norman Lebrecht, blog Slipped Disc, 9/29/12

The long-running fraud prosecution of Barrett Wissmann, co-owner of the classical agency IMG Artists, has ended with the fraudster being spared a jail sentence after stitching up his associates and paying a $12 million fine. You may form your own moral judgment about Wissmann, but the international association of arts managers (IAMA) has no compunction about keeping him as a full member, and Placido Domingo has just gone into partnership with him in a new festival in crisis-ridden Spain. None of this enhances the reputation of the classical music industry for fair play and transparency. [You can read Reuters' report on the end of the case here.]


Related: Opera benefactor released on bail pending his fraud case appeal

Bob Van Voris, Bloomberg News, 10/2/12

Alberto Vilar and Gary Tanaka, the technology investors convicted of stealing from clients in 2008, were ordered released from prison on bail while a federal court considers their appeal. Vilar, 71, known for his philanthropy and love of opera, is serving a nine-year sentence in federal prison in New Jersey. Vilar has about four years remaining on his sentence. Prosecutors claimed Vilar and Tanaka stole from clients to keep [their investment firm] afloat and to pay Vilar's personal expenses after the firm's investments plunged in value beginning in 2000. Vilar was one of the world's top benefactors of opera, donating millions to companies in the U.S. and Europe in addition to hospitals and educational institutions. He failed to deliver on many of his charitable pledges, announcing new philanthropic plans as previous commitments remained unfulfilled.


UK actors told to beware fake casting scams

Nicola Merrifield, The Stage newspaper, 10/18/12

Actors have been warned to verify unsolicited emails from casting directors, following several scams in which people have fraudulently posed as leading industry figures when contacting performers. [British] Equity recently issued safety guidelines via its website and told performers to beware of casting directors whose information could not be checked through the Casting Director's Guild or official sites. In the case that sparked the warning, an email account and Facebook page was set up in the name of a high profile casting director, and used in an attempt to lure actresses to auditions. Despite the casting director warning the imposter that they would take legal action if the behaviour continued, the person then went on to set up another email account and a new Facebook profile in the casting director's name. The casting director whose identity was stolen said she was most concerned about the safety of the actresses involved, and urged performers to be "really cautious". In a similar case of impersonation, an aspiring actor recently received emails from someone claiming to be an agent at Cole Kitchenn Personal Management and interested in representing the performer. A fake email address had been set up in the name of agent Alex Segal, and the individual behind it told the actor they were using a personal account because of problems with their professional one. However, the actor spoke with Segal and realised it was a scam before the meeting could happen. Segal said he was concerned about damage to his reputation, as some of the emails contained insults about industry professionals, but was more fearful for actors. "I am worried for actors...being lured into financial problems or a room with someone who is not who they say they are."


Commentary: Defrauded Broadway producers face a crucial deadline

Patrick Pacheco,'s Play by Play blog, 10/17/12

If the producers of Rebecca, who are the victims of one of the most mystifying frauds in Broadway history, do not manage to open the epic musical on Broadway by the end of this year, they will be facing serious financial obligations to the tune of $7 million. [A] Broadway producer, who wished to remain anonymous, [said:]. "I can't believe that they would have proceeded without the actual funds from this clown." The "clown" in question is Mark C. Hotton, a Long Island businessman arrested Monday on charges of wire fraud in connection with purportedly raising $4.5 million for Rebecca. He in fact collected $60,000 in commissions from Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza, the show's lead producers, on the assurance that he had lined up creditable investors. However, those turned out to be totally fictitious. The unfolding saga has had the theater world buzzing. [V]eteran Broadway producers, most of whom think Rebecca is now dead in the water, are shaking their heads at how easily Sprecher and his partner were misled. Sprecher told the New York Times, "It was impossible for me to assume that all of this happened with people who were made up." It's a weak argument. A quick internet search on the name of Mark C. Hotton brings up a number of previous allegations of fraud and financial chicanery. And any experienced producer would do due diligence on investors -- or their middleman, especially one who is responsible for a third of a $12 million production. While Sprecher has previously been a player in off-Broadway theater, this was his first major foray on Broadway. 

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