KnoedlerGallery

Spanish court rules not to extradite suspect in art fraud

A Spanish court has ruled that one of two brothers charged with perpetrating an art swindle valued at US$33 million should not be extradited for trial in the United States.

Spain’s National Court cited health reasons for deciding to halt the extradition of Jose Bergantinos Diaz, 60, who was arrested in April 2014 on a warrant issued by a New York district court. He is wanted, along with his brother Jesus Bergantinos Diaz, for passing-off fake art as the work of renowned painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The court has already ruled that Jesus Bergantinos Diaz can be extradited.

The Bergantinos Diaz brothers are charged in the U.S. alongside Pei Shen Qian, the Chinese artist who allegedly painted the works in New York then fled to China.

The $80 Million Art Con

When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.

The rise of fakes and false attributions in the art world

Pablo Picasso famously once said, “We all know that art is not the truth.”

With the recent conclusion of the first lawsuit filed against the now defunct, Knoedler Gallery of New York, for selling forgeries, the art world has been abuzz with stories of high-end fakes and the grave issue of false attributions. However, it is a universally established fact that forgeries are not a recent phenomenon but in fact have only grown in prevelance over the last four centuries.

Currently, the FBI estimates that art theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines are a “looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually.”

Former director of scandal-beset Knoedler Gallery breaks her silence

In 2009, two years before news of the Knoedler Gallery’s US$70m sale of fake Abstract Expressionist paintings began to emerge, Ann Freedman resigned as director. Two years later, the venerable gallery closed down and the lawsuits against Knoedler and Freedman began to flood in. Five settled. The first to reach trial, brought by the collectors Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, also settled its claims against Freedman on 7 February (and against Knoedler shortly afterwards), just before she was set to take the stand in the New York courtroom. Her testimony had been eagerly anticipated, not least because she has never given her view of the unfolding scandal and her involvement in it. Until now.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview, her first in several years, she summed up the situation thus: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding.” We spoke to her in her sun-filled gallery on the Upper East side, FreedmanArt, which she opened in 2011. “Looking back, there can be things I didn’t see at the time… Could I have done some things differently? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I don’t have an answer sitting here. I will at some point probably.”

Museums and the art trade: dangerous liaisons?

The foggy world of art dealers’ historical relationships with museums is coming into sharper relief. When the National Gallery in London acquired the archive of the dealers Thomas Agnew and Sons in 2014, it marked a growing interest in exploring this history, following the Los Angeles-based Getty Research Institute’s acquisition of the Knoedler Gallery’s archive in 2012 and the Colnaghi archive’s installation at Waddesdon Manor.

The National Gallery’s conference on 1 and 2 April, Negotiating Art: Dealers and Museums 1855-2015, will explore this relationship through the latest research, taking a broad historical sweep, fr om mid-19th-century London to fin-de-siècle Paris and 1930s Detroit. It is an opportunity, says Alan Crookham, Research Centre manager at the National Gallery, to look at a complicated relationship. “How does it manifest itself in the exchange of expertise, or helping develop collections… And are people reluctant to talk about that because of the public nature of museums?”