Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The story of an amazing art fraud

Driven to Abstraction
It's doubtful that anyone will see Driven to Abstraction -- the story of an amazing, 15-year art fraud -- as a groundbreaking documentary. Heavily reliant on talking heads, director Daria  Price's movie nonetheless opens a fascinating window into the story in which the masterminds of the fraud found a Chinese immigrant who lived in Queens, NY, who was able to create fraudulent paintings that were sold by New York's oldest gallery for a total of $80 million. As it turned out, the painter of the fakes was almost irrelevant in a scheme that mostly benefited those involved in selling works that too few questioned when they were brought to market by The Knoedler Gallery. Art journalists, lawyers, and denizens of the art world tell us how this massive deception occurred and why it succeeded for so many years. Wisely, the movie leaves enough questions about the motivation of the major players to make the story tantalizing. We also learn what happened to those impacted, notably Ann Freedman, who ran the prestigious Knoedler Gallery until it closed in 2011, and Glafira Rosales, the woman who acted as an intermediary for a mystery owner, selling fake work to Knoedler as if it had been made by such renowned artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and Lee Krasner. We're left to wonder whether Pei-Shen Qian, the Chinese student who made all the convincing fakes, understood the scope of a scheme that led to his return to China. The details of the case are too intricate to recount here, but Price lays them out in a clear, fascinating way. And beyond the story’s legal complexities, there's a telling tale of greed and gullibility in a world accustomed to operating without much public scrutiny.

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