The infamous Knoedler & Co gallery is back in the spotlight

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Shot from the movie Driven to Abstraction, 2020

This time it happened in connection with the premiere of a documentary film about the loud exposure of the scheme for the sale of fake works, which led to the closure of the gallery.

The scandal led to the closure of New York’s Knoedler & Co gallery in 2011 after 165 continuous years of operation. It was perhaps one of the most high-profile counterfeiting art cases in the 2010s. Then, recall, through the mediation of the art dealer Glafira Rosales, 63 fake works by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell were sold for a total of about $ 80 million, of which at least $ 43 million went directly to the gallery.

After the scheme for the sale of forgeries was revealed, the gallery ceased to exist, Glafira Rosales received a three-year suspended sentence, and the case itself turned into a kind of urban legend of the art world, which now and then becomes the subject of research by experts in the art market.

The documentary Driven to Abstraction, directed by Daria Price, premiered online last week. This isn’t the first documentary to feature counterfeits at Knoedler & Co. Earlier this year, another investigative film on the subject was released, Made You Look, directed by Barry Avrich. Unlike its predecessor, who mainly tells the story on behalf of former gallery employees who want to prove their innocence, Price’s film focuses on the hidden dynamics of the art market, thanks to which, according to the author of the film, such distribution schemes become possible.

Price’s film has already been criticized for its superficial look at the art market and one-sided coverage of history. The author is reproached for not asking and, thus, not taking into account the opinion of many key participants in those events. However, the undoubted merit of her work is the interviews she took with the friends of the artist Pei Shen Qian – the author of forgeries, who executed the order of art dealers and believed that he creates variants on the themes of the original works of various authors, and not fakes of their works.

In fairness, we note: to understand that the works cannot be original works of this or that author, sometimes it was not necessary to be a super professional specialist or to carry out complex examinations. The artist’s friends admitted that they saw Qian’s things and immediately realized that they were dealing with works in the style of different authors and not originals.

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