An artist story in the New York Times caught my bleary, jaundiced eye this morning (my wife and I are respite-caring for a somewhat hyperactive 8 year old boy). A gentleman called Pei-Shen Qian from Queens, New York made a seemingly modest living as an artist from his equally modest abode. Strangely, though his windows were never available to the curious eyes of passers by. They stayed firmly covered up. But who was the man in the flash car who kept coming in and out with paintings?
Mr Qian, it turns out was a frustrated artist, struggling to make a crust as he hit his 73rd year. But did he fake dozens of American art masters to the value of £50 million? Despite 40 years in the US, Mr Qian had failed to make a mark in the art world and had difficulties with the language (after mastering Chinese, you'd think 40 years on, English would be a doddle). Did he turn his skilled brush to more lucrative work? The Feds think so. They say he is the art faker behind one of the greatest art frauds in US history.
A certain dealer called Glafira Rosales, was recently indicted for selling these fake paintings. They threw in tax evasion and money laundering charges - but did not name Mr Qian. However "sources close to the heart of the investigation" whisper Qian's name as the man tentatively called "the Painter" in the indictment. Neighbours say the FBI raided his home - a fair old clue as to the rumours accuracy.
Over 20 years ago, Mr. Qian was valiantly trying to sell his own art on the streets of Lower Manhattan (no easy task) when Ms. Rosales’s art dealer boyfriend Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz allegedly roped Mr Qian in to dash off some work by famous Abstract Expressionists. Mr Qian ground out of his tiny studio at least 60 "newly discovered" drawings and paintings signed Pollock, Motherwell, Newman, and Diebenkorn.
Ms. Rosales flipped the art to now shut Manhattan dealers, Knoedler & Company who flogged them for millions of dollars on the word of "gallery experts" and gallery reputation. Executives say they thought they were authentic. Did they not worry about the lack of documentation and provenance? Apparently not. Most of the art, according to Ms. Rosales, came from a collection mysteriously inherited from someones dad who wanted to stay anon and became known as "Mr X" or sometimes (presumably around Xmas), "Secret Santa."
So if you are in New York and an elderly Chinese gentleman approaches you and offers you a "nice Diebenkorn" then fork out the few dollars and hang it on your wall pronto. They seem to be good fakes, and God knows its the only hope of having one on most of our walls...