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3 Incredible Stories About Art Forgery
April 23, 2014
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A painting by Mark Rothko, one of the artists whose work Pei-Shen Qian is alleged to have forged (Photo: Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

The Case of Pei-Shen Qian

Earlier this week, a grand jury indictment was unsealed detailing an alleged decades-long forgery scheme by Pei-Shen Qian, a 75-year-old man from Queens, New York, and his accomplices. The story first exploded in the art world last year: according to prosecutors, numerous dealers and collectors were taken in — to the tune of $33 million — by fake versions of paintings by Abstract Expressionist masters like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. As the New York Times points out, "the indictment reads in places like a forger’s manual, laying out the materials needed to forge masterpieces and how to create a fraudulent history of a painting’s creation, ownership, custody and location, known as its provenance." Some of their methods: buying cheap old paintings from flea markets to use their old canvases; employing paint from the period; staining newer canvases with tea bags; blow-drying and exposing paintings to outdoor weather to age them artifically; and researching the lives of deceased collectors and brokers to establish plausible provenances. For more, check out this story in the New York Times or read the whole indictment.

Peter Paul Biro, Art Authenticator Extraordinaire

"The Mark of a Masterpiece," a 2010 New Yorker article by David Grann, is the kind of piece you just can't put down. It tells the story of Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based art autheticator who gained international renown in the art world for a radical new way of proving a painting isn't a forgery: scouring the canvas for traces of fingerprints. "Treating each painting as a crime scene, in which an artist has left behind traces of evidence, Biro has tried to render objective what has historically been subjective," Grann writes. We won't spoil it here, but as the story goes on, it takes on a couple of unbelieveable twists and turns. Go read it for yourself on the New Yorker website.

A Master Forger Explains His Technique

Mark Landis might be the most prolific forger in history. For nearly three decades, he made scores of convincing copies of drawings and paintings, mostly by lesser-known artists — but unlike the majority of forgers, he donated the works, typically to smaller museums, instead of selling them. Also unlike most forgers, it's not clear that Landis broke any laws in donating the fakes, since he didn't make any money . Landis's story has been told in several longform articles, and he spoke with LiveScience for a feature in which he explained his methods. He's also the subject of Art and Craft, a documentary that was initially funded via Kickstarter and premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's the film's Kickstarter pitch video, including a clip from the film:


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