The fallout from the fakes scandal surrounding the Knoedler gallery continues. Since The Art Newspaper revealed a list of victims on 21 November, it has become clear that some of the forged works remain in museum storage, that two were returned to the gallery and that the whereabouts of many more are unknown. Some of the duped buyers are taking action: three new lawsuits have been filed, bringing the number of ongoing civil cases to eight.
Glafira Rosales, the Long Island art dealer who consigned or sold works to the gallery over a roughly 15-year period, beginning in the mid-1990s, has admitted in federal court that around 60 works were painted by an artist reportedly called Pei-Shen Qian, then living in Queens, New York. Knoedler, its former director, Ann Freedman, and its owner, Michael Hammer, have consistently denied that they knew the works were fake.
Forged museum works
At least one institutional buyer still has forged works. The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, has two works in storage: a fake Franz Kline, bought for $475,000 in 1999, and a fake Richard Diebenkorn, bought for $110,000 in 1997, a spokeswoman says.
Other works were unwittingly sent back onto the market. “I unloaded my victimhood,” says Bernard Kruger, who was Freedman’s doctor when he bought a work allegedly by Diebenkorn from the gallery for $95,000 in 1994. He later sold the work and does not know who has it now, he says.
Two collectors returned forged works to the gallery. The hedge-funder Pierre Lagrange was the first to file a lawsuit, alleging in 2011 that Knoedler and Freedman misled him when they sold him a forged painting by Jackson Pollock in 2007. The lawsuit was settled on undisclosed terms in 2012, with Knoedler taking back the work, says a lawyer with knowledge of the case. In 2003, the gallery bought back a fake Pollock from Jack Levy, the managing director of Goldman Sachs, who had bought it in 2001 for $2m.
Since the scandal broke, several middlemen involved in the sales of the works have returned their commissions. The art adviser Jaime Frankfurt acted as an agent in a $3.5m sale of an alleged Willem de Kooning to the New York-based collector John Howard, who is now suing Knoedler, Freedman and Hammer; he is seeking triple damages because of their alleged fraud. Frankfurt “did the right thing; he walked a $500,000 cheque over”, says Howard’s lawyer, John Cahill of Cahill Partners. Frankfurt did not respond to a request for comment.
Papers filed in the Howard case reveal that one of the collectors involved, the commercial real-estate investor Jay Shidler, reacted quickly when news of the scandal broke. Within a month of Lagrange filing his lawsuit, Shidler’s lawyer wrote to Hammer about returning a Lee Krasner that Shidler bought for $1m in 2007 and a Robert Motherwell he bought for $2.2m in 2006. The letter requested a “dialogue” about the gallery buying back the works, since “it appears to us… [that] you continue to fervently believe that the works sold by Knoedler are authentic”. But a letter from Hammer’s lawyer in January 2012 said: “Knoedler is now in the laborious process of winding down and liquidating its art inventory… consequently, neither it nor Mr Hammer is in a position to open a dialogue… regarding the purchase by Knoedler or Mr Hammer of any paintings.” Shidler declined to comment.
Owner investigated sales of dubious works
Court papers reveal that Michael Hammer (below), the owner of the Knoedler gallery, launched an internal investigation in August 2009 into the gallery’s sales of works bought from Glafira Rosales. Hammer hired the law firm Herrick, Feinstein to conduct an investigation not only “of the purchases of artwork by Knoedler… from… Rosales”, but also of Knoedler’s “subsequent sales and/or attempted sales of this artwork”. A federal grand-jury subpoena was served on the gallery and its then director, Ann Freedman, on 14 September, concerning the same issues.
On 16 October, Freedman was placed on “administrative leave”, according to her lawyer, Luke Nikas. She was escorted out of the building. Four days later, the gallery’s new director, Frank Del Deo, sent Hammer a list of Knoedler’s unsold inventory and said that works bought from Rosales had been marked “not for sale”. Hammer said this was “a result of questions being raised by the subpoena”, according to testimony noted in court papers last year. On 27 October 2009, Freedman issued a statement saying that she had “resigned effective October 24”.
One of the new lawsuits has been brought by the galleries owned by Richard Feigen and Manny Silverman, on behalf of both the galleries and the New York-based collector Stephen Robert, who paid more than $1m in 2000 for a counterfeit Clyfford Still that originated from Knoedler. The two dealers acted as intermediaries in the sale and refunded Robert’s money after they realised the work was forged. Court papers reveal that Knoedler bought the work from Rosales for $250,000 in 1998. In 2000, Robert paid Feigen $1.05m for the work. Feigen paid $925,000 of that sum to Silverman, who went on to pay the Knoedler gallery $850,000. Feigen and Silverman claim that Knoedler, Freedman and Hammer sold the painting knowing it was fake.
Another case was filed in November by the Californian collectors Martin and Sharleen Cohen, who are suing over a work allegedly by Rothko that they bought from the New York-based Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery for $385,000 in June 1998. The gallery bought the work from Knoedler for $325,000 on the same day.