Menashe Kadishman

Menashe Kadishman is first to discover the market is rife with fakes of his work

Artist leads the campaign to protect his work

Forgeries of works by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, whose works sell for up to $22,000 at auction, have flooded the market the Israeli police has told The Art Newspaper.

The first forgery was discovered by the artist himself in April, at a recent show in a gallery on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Asking a friend to buy the painting covertly, Kadishman turned it over to the police, who raided the gallery. Kadishman examined all the collected works and proclaimed two more of them forgeries. After the first three fakes were discovered, the police published a fax number for collectors to contact the artist, who has been examining works first-hand in his studio. As we went to press, a total of five forged paintings from Kadishman’s sheep collection, and two forged metal sculptures had been discovered.

“This not the end of the story,” said Ora Shafir, the police investigator on the case. “We keep finding another and another. This is the first forgery case of a living artist [in Israel],” she said; the last forgery scandal in Israel in 2005 involved lithographs of the late Nahum Guttman. “If you get a painting by a known artist and it’s cheap, you should know it’s stolen,” warned Kadishman, furious that one forgery found a buyer at $900, far below the $3,000-$4,000 Israeli market price for his paintings.

Israeli galleries set lower prices than their European and American counterparts, because Israelis are interested in art but have much lower incomes, said Kadishman, adding, “galleries are responsible for checking if a painting is ‘kosher’”.

Inspired by images and metaphors of sheep, after he worked for a period as a shepherd, Kadishman painted sheep faces and flocks at a prolific pace. Large quantities of the artist’s work on the market may have made it easier for counterfeiters to create pastiche forgeries that appear to be part of the series, rather than copies of specific works.

Kadishman, 75, a Tel Aviv native, trained as a sculptor in Israel and London, and became a painter later in his career. He had his first solo show at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1965. In 1978 he represented Israel at the Venice Biennale and his work is in the Metropolitan and MoMA in New York, Tate in London, the Berlin Jewish Museum and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Police arrested a suspect in early May but released him owing to lack of evidence. The suspect reported that he bought his Kadishman painting at a flea market and then sold it to the gallery.

Israeli galleries often buy secondary market works, with certificates or testimonies proving provenance. The first gallery holding three of the forgeries was described by the police as a former frame shop with no real credentials.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as: 'Fake sheep flood market'