Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art

(Canada, documentary Channel Original, directed by Barry Avrich)

New York's M. Knoedler & Co., established in 1846 was the most important and most powerful art gallery in America. When it closed in 2011, amidst a FBI investigation and allegations of wire fraud and forgery, the oldest commercial art gallery was now the subject of the largest art scandal in history. The cast of characters reads like an Agatha Christie novel.

More: Brilliant forger’s works sell for millions and expose flaws in the venerable art world

One chilly fall day in 2000, an art fraudster named Glafira Rosales, who was actually a small-time crook from Long Island, walked into the Knoedler to sell a collection that featured one of the great troves of unknown abstract expressionist masterpieces including Pollocks, de Koonings, and Rothkos. The paintings were part of a horde of fakes executed by a Chinese immigrant artist, Pei-Shen Qian, at his home in Queens. Qian was a disciple of Ai Wei Wei who later fled to China.

More: Watch a Q&A with director Barry Avrich and Hot Docs director of programming Shane Smith.

They were all masterful forgeries that destroyed in one stroke the reputations of New York’s once-venerable Knoedler Gallery and of art-world doyenne Ann Freedman. Rosales was ordered to pay $81 million in compensation to the victims of the scandal. 

Ms. Freedman marketed and sold the fraudulent works of art to moguls, collectors, and museums who trusted the reputation of New York’s oldest art gallery, where she worked as the gallery’s director for over thirty years. Freedman has always denied any part in the plot to defraud, even though the sale of the fake works of art accounted for the lion’s share of the profits made at the gallery over a ten-year period.

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Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art investigates and exposes the events, high-society characters and con artists that brought such a bizarre and sudden end to what was, not so long ago, one of the world’s best-known art galleries and a New York institution that never stopped for 165 years, even during the Civil War, First and Second World Wars, and on 9/11. It would take the art scandal of the century to close it forever.

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