Tuesday, January 15, 2013
I have just finished reading Caveat Emptor by Ken Perenyi. It is the book of a dissolute New Jersey youth who found his way in to the underbelly of the art world with his considerable skills in forgery. It is both terribly written and very readable. Great story, but his amazing array of skills did not extend to writing.
I, like many reviewers, am deeply troubled by how amoral and remorseless this man is. As his career crescendoed, his forged works were being passed to auction houses and tony galleries across the US and England. This meant that despite his rationalization that he was getting back at snotty or criminal dealers, eventually these pieces ended up being purchased by unsuspecting collectors.
On the other hand, he is creating work for people who care more about the signature than the painting. While they have not gotten what they paid for - an authentic signature - they have gotten what they really wanted, which is to say they own a Buttersworth, a Heade or a Stubbs. Knowing the inauthentic nature of the piece would diminish their pleasure for sure, but these are not people who purchase for the pleasure of looking at a piece. One of the collectors (who aids Mr. Perenyi in "antiquing" techniques) enjoys that status seeking art buyers are getting their comeuppance.
He is clearly a good forger, but not quite good enough. Many dealers take short cuts to authenticate a piece, but soon enough the fraud is found out. At that point Pernyi has cashed the check and skipped town. He claims to have fooled the experts but the experts cottoned to their inauthenticity pretty quickly.
What is truly troubling is that nothing was ever done about this forger in our midst. The FBI had the goods on this guy. I was chatting about this with the art conservationist who lent the book to me. She feels the market had been flooded by so many of his copies and that so many auction houses and "reputable" dealers were involved that it would have caused the art market to crash. It makes all of these players complicit in the fraud.
Another aspect of Mr. Perenyi's story is the number of unseemly characters who were involved at all levels of art sales. There are some incredibly sleazy people out there. And a few are involved in the art market.
On a final note it is interesting to know that people are now buying his work as reproductions. I find it amusing that people are willing to pass off a fake in an effort to create a "pedigree" for themselves with old world art. So many people, spending so much money....on so little.