Rothko specialist and son testify they never authenticated fake painting in Knoedler trial

David Anfam and Christopher Rothko were among 11 experts the gallery listed as having viewed the painting


Knoedler’s former director Ann Freedman handled work from a fictitious collector as late as 28 November 2011, just three days before the gallery shut its doors amid allegations it was selling fake Abstract Expressionist paintings, the Mark Rothko expert David Anfam testified in a New York court on Monday.

According to Anfam’s notes of a telephone conversation with Freedman, she said the work was from the same Swiss or Mexican collection as a trove of 40 other works brought to Knoedler by the art dealer Glafira Rosales, who in 2013 admitted they were forgeries.

Freedman left Knoedler in 2009, a few weeks after the gallery was served with an FBI subpoena related to its investigation of Rosales. At the time of the conversation with Anfam, Freedman was working independently.

Anfam also said that Freedman asked him to write to the Clyfford Still Museum, where he is a consultant, encouraging it to accept a donation of a fragment from a painting by the artist that had been damaged in transit from a West Coast collector. She told Anfam, he said, that it was from the same anonymous collection as the other works that were later revealed as fakes. He “never even contemplated” writing the letter, he said. “I thought it a bit rich after all that had transpired”.

Anfam was then shown documents in which Freedman said that he intended to include Knoedler’s works by Rothko in an upcoming catalogue raisonné of works on paper. He testified that he wasn’t working on any such catalogue. “It’s outrageous”, he said.  

Christopher Rothko, the artist’s son, also testified on Monday. Anfam’s and Rothko’s names were on a list Freedman gave the De Soles as among 11 experts who had viewed the painting. Domenico De Sole testified last week that Freedman said the experts had “authenticated” it. Both Rothko and Anfam testified they didn’t. (Last week, the jury heard four others on the list also deny they authenticated the Rothko.)

Anfam said he had never seen the painting sold to the De Soles and that Freedman had sent him a transparency, unsolicited, more than a year after they had bought it. Rothko testified he told Freedman it was “beautiful”, but didn’t say anything more “because I didn’t want to be sitting here today”.

Rothko was shown other documents in which Freedman stated he’d “expressed a debt of gratitude” to Knoedler for its research on the provenance of a Rothko and that he recommended it be included in an upcoming publication. He denied making those statements.