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Monday, 19 August 2013 18:52

Artist Behind Knoedler Fakes Identified

The master forger who was responsible for painting most of the fake modernist artworks sold through the Manhattan gallery Knoedler & Company has been identified. Pei-Shen Qian, a 73-year-old Chinese immigrant, created paintings that imitated works by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn in his home studio in Queens. The works, which disgraced art dealer Glafira Rosales sold through Knoedler, garnered approximately $80 million; Qian was paid a few thousand dollars for each forgery.

Qian, who studied at the prestigious Art Students League, became involved in the scheme when he met Rosales’ boyfriend and colleague, Jose Carlos Bergantiños, in the early 1990s. Over the course of fifteen years, Qian produced at least 63 paintings and drawings in the style of revered Abstract Expressionists, which were then sold by Rosales and former Knoedler employee, Julian Weissman, through the once-esteemed gallery.

No charges have been brought against Qian although FBI agents did search his home last week. Rosales, who has been charged with wire fraud and money laundering, is the only person who has been indicted in connection to the Knoedler scandal thus far.

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The Dia Art Foundation, which closed its two galleries in Manhattan in 2004, has gathered about half the money needed to build its new space in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. While the organization has pushed their fundraising efforts into high gear, they are left without an acquisition fund for its collection, which includes works from the 1960s to the present.

The Dia Art Foundation announced that they will be holding a sale of paintings and sculptures at Sotheby’s in New York on November 13-14, 2013 to remedy that. The foundation hopes to raise at least $20 million by auctioning off works by Cy Twombly (1928-2011), John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and Barnett Newman (1905-1970).

The Dia Art Foundation’s collection includes works by modern and contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol (1921-1987), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) and Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Philippe Vergne, the Dia’s director, has not commented on what works he’s hoping to acquired with the funds from the Sotheby’s sale.

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Sotheby’s evening sale of Contemporary Art, which took place on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 in New York, saw a number of exceptional works sell for record-breaking prices. The night’s top lot was Barnett Newman’s (1905-1970) Onement VI, an iconic Abstract Expressionist painting, which garnered $43.8 million. The work exceeded its high estimate of $40 million and set an auction record for Newman. The dark blue canvas, which measures 8 ½ feet x 10 feet and is sliced down the middle by a pale blue streak, is a remarkable example of Newman’s association with abstract expressionism as well as color field painting.

Other highlights from the sale included Gerhard Richter’s (b. 1932) oil painting of Milan’s cathedral square, Domplatz, Mailand (estimate: $30 million-$40 million), which sold for $37.1 million and set a record for Richter as well as for any living artist at auction; a sculpture by Yves Klein (1928-1962), which sold for $22 million and broke the record for the artist at auction; and Clyfford Still’s (1904-1980) PH-12, which was estimated to sell for $16 million to $20 million and ended up going for $20.9 million.

Although there were a number of high-profile sales, the auction was not without some failures. Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992) Study for Portrait of P.L., which was expected to bring $30 million $40 million didn’t find a buyer. Two works by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) also failed to sell.

The auction happenings will continue in New York at Christie’s, where Post-War and Contemporary sales will be held through the afternoon of Thursday, May 16, 2013.

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Next month, Sotheby’s and Christie’s will hold some of their most anticipated auctions. The major sales of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art are expected to garner at least $1 billion. Most of that money will be generated from the contemporary art auctions, which have been the highest earning in recent years. The Impressionist and modern art sales are expected to bring a joint $383 million while the contemporary auctions are estimated at over $700 million.

Highlights from the auctions include the renowned collection of vacuum-cleaner tycoon Alex Lewyt at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on May 7, 2013. The 200-piece collection is valued at $65 million and includes a still-life by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) that carries a $25 million estimate and a portrait by Amedeo Modigiliani (1884-1920), which is expected to garner anywhere from $20 million to $30 million.

Christie’s Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on May 15, 2013 will be lead by Jackson Pollock’s (1912-1956) Number 19, a seminal drip painting, which is expected to sell for $25 million-$35 million. It is the most important work by the artist to appear at auction in the past two decades.

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on May 14, 2013 is also expecting a number of high priced sales. Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992) Study for Portrait of P.L. is estimated to sell for $30 million to $40 million and a painting by Barnett Newman (1905-1970), which is deemed one of the most important works from the Abstract Expressionist School, is also expected to bring $30 million to $40 million.

Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale will be held on May 8, 2013 and includes works by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899).

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Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale on May 14, 2013 in New York will include one of the most important paintings by Barnett Newman (1905-1970) ever to appear at auction. Onement VI (1953) is a seminal work by the American artist and one of the most significant pieces from the Abstract Expressionist movement. The painting, which measures 8 ½ feet x 10 feet, is expected to garner anywhere from $30 million to $40 million. The canvas will go on view at Sotheby’s on May 3, 2013 until it appears at auction later that month.

Newman, one of the foremost artists of the 20th century, was a pioneer of color field painting as well as a key Abstract Expressionist. As an exhibitions organizer at the Manhattan-based Betty Parsons Gallery in the 1940s, Newman played a fundamental role in the careers of many of his friends including Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), and Clyfford Still (1904-1980).  

Onement VI, a massive canvas consumed by rich blue paint and sliced down the middle by a light blue streak, was a gift from the artist to his wife, Annalee. The painting remained in her collection for almost a decade and was acquired in 1961 by the well-known collectors Frederick and Marcia Weisman. That same year the painting appeared in an exhibition titled Abstract Expressionists Imagists at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum that helped define the modern art movement.

Onement VI is the final work in a series of six paintings by Newman. Four of the paintings are held in major art institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, and the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, OH. Onement V currently resides in a private collection.

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