News / USA

    NYC Jury Hears Details of Modern Masters Forgery

    In this courtroom sketch Jan. 27, 2016, Domenico De Sole, a chairman of the board at Sotheby’s, gestures towards his fake Mark Rothko painting, at a civil trial in New York at Manhattan federal court.
    In this courtroom sketch Jan. 27, 2016, Domenico De Sole, a chairman of the board at Sotheby’s, gestures towards his fake Mark Rothko painting, at a civil trial in New York at Manhattan federal court.
    Associated Press

    In the latest chapter of a scandal that's jolted New York's art world, a federal jury is hearing about a Chinese immigrant who forged fakes of modern masters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko in his garage, a once-reputable Manhattan gallery that sold them and the wealthy buyers who paid millions for the knockoffs.

    "I got a fake painting for $8.3 million and they don't want to give my money back to me," Domenico De Sole, the chairman of the board at Sotheby's auction house and a former Gucci CEO, groused from the witness stand last week at a high-stakes civil trial that continues Monday.

    His wife Eleanore — testifying with the faux color-block Rothko called "Untitled, 1956" unceremoniously propped up on an easel next to the witness stand — told jurors she "went into a shaking frenzy" when she first learned of suspicions about it.

    The couple sued the Knoedler & Company gallery and its former director, Ann Freedman, in 2013 after federal prosecutors brought a separate criminal case against Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales, who admitted in a guilty plea that she sold or consigned 40 fakes to the gallery before it closed in 2011 after more than a century. The De Soles are seeking $25 million in damages, claiming Freedman should have known the painting was a forgery.

    The defense has portrayed Freedman, who wasn't charged in the criminal fraud, as a victim as well. It also contends the evidence will show that the forgeries were so good — and such a surprise — even respected art experts lost their bearings.

    "This is the art world equivalent of finding dinosaur bones," Freedman's attorney, Luke Nikas, said in opening statements. "This was an important discovery. Ann believed in it and the art world believed in it."

    The fraud dates to the 1990s, when Rosales, her partner and her boyfriend discovered future forger Pei-Shen Qian painting portraits on the streets of lower Manhattan. The dealer learned the artist had trained at the same art school attended by Rothko and other famous abstract expressionists — and had a knack for mimicking their style.

    Qian, who was charged criminally but has fled to China, began painting fakes of Rothkos and others out his garage at his Queens home in exchange for a few hundred dollars up to $9,000. The dealer then began taking them to the Knoedler gallery, where she told Freedman they were undiscovered works supplied by the anonymous son of a deceased Swiss collector.

    After obtaining "Untitled, 1956" for $950,000, Freedman sold the painting to the De Soles for more than $8 million in 2004. The couple hung it on the wall at their Hilton Head, South Carolina, home, believing they were the owners of a museum-worthy Rothko.

    "I thought it was beautiful," Domenico De Sole testified.

    Pressed on cross-examination on why he hadn't done more to authenticate the painting, De Sole shot back, "I had complete trust in [Freedman] and Knoedler. It never crossed my mind that these guys were in the business of selling fake art. Is that clear?"

    The defense insists Freedman was so completely conned that she paid nearly $300,000 for a phony Pollock drip painting in 2000 and displayed it in her apartment for a decade, even though artist's signature was misspelled "Pollok."

    It also claims art experts who saw the Rothko were believers as well, and have asked the jury to be skeptical of testimony that they never actually authenticated the work.

    "The experts were fooled," defense attorney Nikas said. "And now they feel like fools."

    De Sole lawyer Emily Reisbaum told jurors that, at minimum, Freedman was at fault for ignoring obvious red flags such as the proliferation of pieces from the mystery collection over a 15-year period and Rosales' willingness to sell them to the gallery at prices far below market value.

    "Your common sense will tell you," Reisbaum said. "Such a treasure trove of never-before-seen masterpieces by America's most famous artists was too good to be true."

    You May Like

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora