For years, an infamous forgery scandal unfolded across news headlines in Australia. Involved were dealers, cons, courts, and one of the country’s best-known artists—and the case remains unsolved to this day.
Now, a new documentary is revisiting the scandal.
The two-part program, released today on Australia’s ABC TV, investigates the suspected forgery of several canvases attributed to the late artist Brett Whiteley and the ripple effects that followed.
The story begins with the car salesman-cum-art dealer Steven Nasteski, who purchased what he believed was an original Whiteley landscape painting, Orange Lavender Bay (1988), for $1.1 million in 2009. The purchase was, for him, an investment. The market for Whitelely works had blown up since the artist’s death by overdose in 1992 and Nasteski thought he could flip it for a penny.
But something seemed off with the painting when it arrived at the gallery of Andrew Crawford, who helped facilitate the sale. It also smelled.
Upon researching the painting’s past, the two men found that it had once been sold by Peter Gant, a Melbourne-based gallery owner who had previously come under fire (though never faced charges) for his ties to other forged artworks.
Shortly thereafter, the authenticity of another Whiteley painting came under suspicion by its owner, Andrew Pridham, who had purchased the piece sight unseen for $2.5 million a few years prior. That artwork, Big Blue Lavender Bay (1988), was also sold by Gant.
https://t.co/f8PatPM4dA In 2007, a gallery assistant made a discovery that rocked the Australian art world and led to one of the most controversial, high-profile and enduring art mysteries.
— ABC News (@abcnews) September 18, 2023
Much of the story from there on out is a matter of public record, but we’ll let the documentary, The Whiteley Art Scandal, do the retelling. With twists and subplots and interviews from just about everyone implicated—including, somewhat surprisingly, Gant himself—the program leans into the saga’s juiciest details.
“We wanted to do a story in the true crime genre with an art twist. From a storytelling perspective, that was really interesting to us,” writer and director Yaara Bou Melhem told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Melhem’s series plays like pulp, but touches on ideas that extend beyond Whiteley, Gant, or anyone else involved. “If this could happen over works like this, that were as big and bold and related to one of the most well-known artists in Australia, what else is there?” she said. “We wanted to tease away at that, and to get a sense of what’s at stake for our history and the cultural integrity of our art.”
For those that don’t have two hours for the documentary, ABC also adapted the story into a multimedia report online.