Tire Kicker’s: An Ode

This Ode to the Tire Kicker was originally posted in 2012, but we here at Signet Art are left in wearied bemusement at the chutzpa of this particular type of client…or non-client, I should say.  They contact us with regularity and never cease to surprise, impress, astound and many times insult us with their inquiries and requests for our professional assistance. The Kicker is an interesting beast; they come armed with art (which they have questions about), the internet (of which they believe they are an expert researcher), a need to know answers (immediately), and empty pockets to pay for our services. It is an oldie but a goodie, we hope you enjoy!

Four years to earn my Bachelor’s in Art History plus almost four years under the tutelage of our certified appraiser of fine art, who herself also has a degree in the arts and has been appraising for over 26 years . . . and a large portion of our time is utilized handling the tire kickers.  What is a tire kicker?  You know them; they are indecisive about purchasing a product or service, and never feel satisfied with what they are offered.
The calls usually start like this:

“Hi, I have an original Bill of Rights.  What’s that worth?”

“I have a Declaration of Independence I found in a house we just purchased.  Can you tell me its value?

One of my all-time favorites, “I have one of the Last Suppers, how much can I sell it for?”

You think I’m kidding; these come in at extreme regularity.

“I know it’s expensive ’cause I just saw it in a museum.”

“I have a painting by ‘Insert Name of Well-known Artist Here’.  Can you tell me how much that’s worth?”

Once we get past the initial issues– “No, ma’am.  I promise you don’t have one of the Last Suppers.” – and talk about their need for an appraisal and the services we can provide, it only gets worse.

“You mean there’s a charge?”

This is where my brain does its best to keep me from kicking the tire kicker right back through the phone.  I want to reply that, “No, I was only kidding, there’s no charge.  We do this as a hobby, you know, just to pass the time.”

By their nature the tire kicker is a persistent beast, and explaining our services and how we can help does not dissuade them.  In fact it only makes them squint their eyes and change tactics.

“Well, can I just e-mail you a picture and then you can tell me if it’s worth getting a consult?”

I say “No” and explain to them when you transfer a piece from one medium to another, i.e. from an oil on canvas to a JPEG image, it only hinders the inspection.  There are reasons an appraiser needs to physically view and inspect your artwork.  But, again, explanation only bounces off their thick rubbery skin; they are after free information, and will stop at nothing to try and get it.

“Yes ma’am.  Our appraiser charges for her time.”
“Well I don’t want to pay for an appraisal or a verbal consult if the art isn’t worth anything, do you know any place I can call that doesn’t charge?”
(Seriously . . . I get asked this almost every day)
“No ma’am.  Any appraiser out there worth their salt is going to charge you for their time.”

Again, I have to suppress my inner monologue that wants to wish them the best of luck searching Google for three hours, having no idea what they are actually looking for.  But, I try to remain polite and professional and usually manage to do so . . . usually . . . at least 90/10 . . . ok, maybe 80/20.

By this time if the conversation has yet to penetrate and they persist . . .  “It’s a landscape with a small boat and it has a signature at the bottom and its beautiful, I can just tell it’s valuable.  I have good taste.”   . . . we politely draw the analogy to the doctor they happily visit when they are sick, who has years of training and valuable knowledge and also refuses to diagnose them over the phone.

We have a love/hate relationship with the popularity of shows like “The Antiques Road Show”, “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars”.  We love them because they are entertaining shows that have spurred an increased fascination with the value of personal property and we all benefit from that.  We enjoy the shows and like seeing treasures found in Grandma’s cellar just like anyone else, but these shows give the impression and reinforce the idea that expertise should be free.  The viewers don’t understand when they see an expert on “Pawn Stars” tell someone all they would ever and could ever need to know about their piece, that they are appearing as a marketing tool.  They are advertising themselves as an expert in their field, and are advertising their business.  Which, as a note to the magic of television, these experts are often portrayed as having their frontal lobe packed full of answers on any and all items in their field they just can’t wait to get out.  This isn’t a bad thing, it’s good T.V. in fact, but in actuality the expert is given ample time to see, inspect, examine and research the items he or she will be commenting on.  It’s true.  We’ve done it here at Signet and many of our colleagues within the art world have as well.  The tire kicker does not understand this and expects the floodgates of information to come bursting open when they describe their item.  “Have you heard of the artist? It is signed at the bottom, I think it says G I C L E E . . .”

The rise in popularity of shows like these are why Signet Art started offering quick, professional verbal consultation appointments many years ago. “Well, what’s a verbal consultation?”
The verbal consult is a quick, in-office examination and advise session with the appraiser.  We recommend the verbals for clients who need a professionally trained eye to give them expert advice and direction with their artwork, but who do not need a written appraisal report.

The era of Wikipedia, Yahoo and Google has too many convinced that if you just spend enough time online, you’re an expert.  The tire kickers are certainly under this impression, and it’s not entirely their fault.  Technology has been advertised for years as able to give you access to all the information you could ever need, right at your fingertips.  This, as anyone who has spent time out in the light of the real world would tell you, is false.  There is training for a reason and there are experts for a reason.

It comes down to virtual images versus actual hands-on inspection.  If you do not know the “what” of what you have and you search online, you end up comparing JPEGs with JPEGs.  Thousands of online images with other images that, probably, are in no way related.  This isn’t even close to comparing apples with apples, it’s more like comparing windsocks with helicopters- they both are outside, sure, but one costs a hundred bucks and one costs a few hundred thousand.  The online search to get real answers to your fine art can be very misleading and dangerous when you don’t know what you are, or should be, really looking for.

Just because you send us a picture of a Salvador Dali piece, for example, does not mean that is what you have.  Dali, like most artists, worked in many mediums and styles; oil on canvas, wood cuts, etchings, pen and pencil sketches, sculpture in both wood and metals. . . and you may just have a poster, but you are looking online at his oils on canvas going for millions at auction and you are already dreaming of your new two-story by the lake. “But I thought prints were still valuable?  It’s numbered at the bottom and is signed.  Did I mention it was signed?  It has a signature. . .”  The type of a print needs to be determined.  Color lithograph, offset-lithograph, serigraph, woodcut, etching, mezzotint, engraving, a monotype . . . all are printmaking methods, and each vary in value and collectability, multiple factors must be considered.

Expertise in the art world is built upon years of handling and looking at actual artworks, and years of research and investigation within the field.  Actually recognizing surface quality and textures, being able to determine the medium, condition, age and whether or not items are authentic.

So, once I’ve held firm for the entire conversation and have explained thoroughly what we can offer them, the tire kicker gives and decides they, “will think about it and will call back to schedule an appointment.”  I hang up the phone, then go wash the tread marks off my face before the next one comes.

-M.P. Callender

A Book Review of Catalogues Raisonné: Buy the Remington, Leave the Russell

Warning: This blog post is going to be about a topic that is somewhat esoteric, the good and bad of Catalogues Raisonné.  It is also going to be a bit of a rant.  If either of those two caveats doesn’t dissuade you, read on.   Hidden within is a book review of one of the best and one of the most frustrating I have recently encountered.  If you just want the book review part, skip down a few paragraphs ….. Just trying to be helpful to readers.

A bit of background…  appraisers collect lots of books on art.  The longer one is in the field, the more crammed one’s library becomes and the pickier one becomes about adding new reference books, especially in a day when so much information is becoming accessible online.  My library reached capacity several years ago.  That doesn’t mean I stopped buying books.  But it does mean I really assess closely the utility of a new reference book before pulling the trigger.  A few years ago, I had a water damage incident that reached the doorway of my office but gratefully did not cross the threshold.  Unfortunately, all the flooring had to be torn up and replaced.  So, all the books had to be packed, carted away, stored and reinstalled.  I used that situation to address office configuration and added lots more bookshelves.   But, those quickly filled up as well.  All of this to say, I am only interested in acquiring the most comprehensive book on any given artist, which translates to the catalogue raisonné on that artist.

For those who don’t know, a catalogue raisonné is an author’s attempt to list and describe every work an artist has done in a given medium.  The CR is the author’s attempt at a thorough examination of all known pieces by that artist in the medium covered.  Important artists who work in multiple media might have a CR for paintings, one for prints and one for sculpture. CRs can be many volumes.  They are normally organized chronologically but can be organized by particular subjects.  But the one quality that all good CRs share is comprehensiveness.  At the very least, a CR should have a complete list of known works in that medium and good pictures of each piece.  The best CRs have wonderful additional information – ownership history, exhibition history, cross-referencing of the artist’s biographical information with the known works in order to better understand that course of the artist’s progress, etc.

The utility of a good CR to an appraiser is clear.  If I am working on an appraisal of a given painting by a well-known artist and want to know whether it is an accepted piece within the artist’s oeuvre, the first place to check is the latest CR.  That author or group of authors has usually put years into examining the artist’s work and gathering information on all known pieces.   CRs are, by their nature, limited to the known works.  Almost the minute a CR goes to press, new works surface from various private collectors who were not aware of the production of the CR and whose paintings have been hidden in private collections for generations.   So, supplements and addenda to the catalogues are common.


Imagine my excitement then, when I happened on Charles M. Russell-A Catalogue Raisonne published in 2007 with a descriptive listing promising that book owners would be given a Key Code allowing them access to the online CR.  I imagined that this online edition of the CR would be where newest updates would be reported, newly discovered and accepted works reported, further research on individual pieces tracked.  I fully expected that in purchasing the book I would be getting a comprehensive CR plus the online updates.  Bonus!

I bought the book several months ago, put it on the shelves to languish until I needed to reference it for an appraisal.  I admit that I did not peruse it until the latest appraisal came up.  I am working on valuing two known paintings by Russell.  The authenticity of the works is not in question.  So, I plopped open the book and began looking through the Contents page for the comprehensive listing.  Not there.  I flipped back to the Index and searched by title.  Not listed.  What?  I flipped back to the Contents page to see if I missed something.  The book consists of a few good essays on the artist’s life and work, each illustrated with color images from Russell’s work, a section of large color plates that, as far as I could tell, are randomly selected.  These plates are not listed chronologically or by topic.  It’s just a section of pretty pictures.  When I did go to the online listing and search by title, there was a brief listing of each of my client’s paintings and a good picture.  No additional information.  I got nothing more from this resource than the facts I already knew.  What a researcher looking at an undated painting or one where she did not have the title at hand would do is beyond me.  Even online, the works are segmented into year batches.  You can search by year, by medium and by subject.  But if the system does not like your query it throws you into the wheel-of-death limbo and you best restart the search.   Bottom line —  Charles M. Russell-A Catalogue Raisonne is a coffee table book, not a catalogue raisonné.   Even with the addition of the online access, the material is organized in such a frustrating way that I cannot recommend this book.

Not sure where this project went off course.   I had high hopes for the book, in part because one of the contributing editors, Peter Hassrick, is a well-known expert on Russell and a co-author to one of the best-written CRs I own, the two-volume Frederic Remington- A Catalogue Raisonne.  The Remington book is everything that the Russell book is not—comprehensive, catalogued by date, incredibly well researched.   Odd that in the world of late 19th-early 20th C. western art where Russell and Remington are constantly compared, a look at their CRs would bring up the same comparisons.  But, if your shelves are as cramped as mine, buy the Remington CR and leave the Russell one for the amateurs.

-Brenda Simonson-Mohle, ISA CAPP

Summer Seminar – Foundation for Appraisal Education

Foundation for Appraisal EducationA few months ago I got an email notification for the Foundation for Appraisal Education’s (FAE) annual seminar. The speakers sounded intriguing and the chance to escape the Texas heat for a few days in the San Francisco Bay area made the attendance enticing. Yes, I assumed we would be busy with work and would have to set things aside for a few days, but appraisers are just human. We need rest, relaxation and inspiration like other mere mortals. So, I signed us up. The ‘us’ included my able assistant Matthew Callender, our respective spouses, and myself. Why not combine a few days learning with a few days of R & R over the weekend?

We landed at SFO to a cloudless day and temperature of 72°–already a mood shifting change for the better.   Don’t get me wrong, as a native of Texas I am a big booster of our state, but even I know that anyone with brains and money tries to leave Texas for cooler climates in the middle of the summer. Most of this summer has been mild but I have been clinging to the hope of this trip in order to get through the last few weeks of sweltering weather. We made our way to Alameda across the bay and checked in. Then made our way to the opening reception of the conference, hosted this year by Michaan’s Auction house.

Maureen Winer, President of FAE. with Allyson Bradley of Michaan's Auctions

Maureen Winer, President of FAE. with Allyson Bradley of Michaan’s Auctions

Wow! What a host! Allyson Bradley and the whole Michaan’s staff showed us hospitality beyond measure. The reception was filled with scrumptious food and libation.

It gave us a chance to look over Michaan’s upcoming auction items and chat with other appraisers from across the country. Good start to the conference.



Harry Huang, Asian art expert with Michaan’s

Harry Huang, Asian art expert with Michaan’s

On Thursday, most of the speakers were impressive. Harry Huang, the Asian art expert with Michaan’s, gave a talk on snuff bottles of organic materials, followed by a great opportunity to examine and discuss the pieces.

The advantage of a seminar in an auction house is the chance for hands-on examination.

Hands on

Selection of snuff bottles for handling and inspection


Susan Lahey, President, Eastern Art Consultants Inc.

Susan Lahey, President, Eastern Art Consultants Inc.

He was followed by Susan Lahey, ISA AM, MA, who spoke on the market for contemporary Chinese art, a fascinating and timely topic—this is an area of collecting that is red hot in today’s market. Susan appraises both traditional Asian/Oriental art and this late 20th-early 21st century iteration.   She is also an accomplished speaker who understands a crowd of appraisers wants lots of info… she came prepared. Good job, Susan!

Susan was followed by Brian Witherall of Witherall’s Auction House. Brian spoke on Gold Rush era jewelry and accouterment. The pieces are not anything we will ever run into or appraise, but Brian’s talk was informative.

DSC_5496After a luscious box lunch and a few moments of sitting on the steps soaking up some California sun, the afternoon speakers began. I had perused the itinerary and was excited to hear the speaker on “California Art.”  That is, until he opened his mouth.   The talk was so ill-prepared that I will leave the speaker’s name out in order to save him the embarrassment.   Seriously?   This fellow was a long-time dealer in the area and was there representing an auction house that I will also skip in order to save them the embarrassment.   The old cliche ‘phone that one in’ would be a generous understatement of that presentation.   Too bad!  Such a great topic with such good potential …wasted.

Steve Cabella of Modern I

Steve Cabella of Modern I

The day closed on a good note though. Steve Cabella of Modern I gave a great presentation on the field that used to be called “Post War Design” and is now referred to as mid-century modern. Steve has been a dealer of this sort of furniture since long before it was the hottest trend.   Most of these items are not signed with the designer’s name so Steve has a large collection of vintage design magazines and has long hours poring through them to match unsigned pieces to the right manufacturer. He knows the designers well and he gave an interesting and informative talk.

Friday began with a three-person panel on authentication.   Hilarie Faberman, a Curator of Contemporary Art at the Stanford University Art Museum, Matt Quinn of Quinn’s Auctions and and Tom Pratt, an insurance agent who specializes in fine art. Each gave real-world examples of situations when authentication had been necessary to properly value items.

Panel with Hilarie Faberman, Tom Pratt and Matthew Quinn

Panel with Hilarie Faberman, Tom Pratt and Matthew Quinn

Ben Marks, the art writer for Collectorsweekly.com, moderated the panel. The topic of authentication is always an important one to appraisers… when does one need an authentication, how to find the right person, the logistics of getting the piece in front of the authenticator and all of the latest news about various authentication boards that have shut down for fear of litigation…. Good meaty information.


Allen Michaan of Michaan’s auctions

Allen Michaan of Michaan’s auctions

Allen Michaan of Michaan’s auctions gave a beautifully illustrated talk on the career of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the many areas of art and decorative arts he and his company delved into. The biggest revelation to me was that Tiffany had started out his art career as a painter.   Who knew?   He was a decent painter but really found his niche when he began to delve into interior decoration and produce stained glass windows, lamps and other desk accessories for his clients.   He and a team of colleagues were commissioned to do stained glass windows for many churches and public buildings in the early 20th C.



Laura Wooley

Laura Wooley

After Allen’s presentation,an independent appraiser with extensive auction house experience in the sale of celebrity collections, talked about the collecting of celebrity memorabilia. Values in this field have much more to do with the popularity of the owner and the historical importance of a particular item than with any other factor.   It’s a fascinating field but one where comparables must be crazy to find. Is a Marilyn Monroe item equivalent to an Elvis item or would the better comparison be with JFK?   Some real challenges in that field!   The day ended with a presentation on wood identification by lumber expert Rick McDaniels of McBeath Lumber.


Lunch at the Michaan's Auctions Annex

Dinner at the Michaan’s Auctions Annex

After two days of class time in Alameda, we stretched our backs and moved our bags into a lovely, quaint French-style hotel in San Francisco, the Hotel Cornell. Lovely place!   The location is great, very near Union Square and rooms are small but charming.   There are posters on every wall that does not have hand-painted homages to French art and culture. The small café downstairs cooks up a fresh breakfast to order and has faux-painted stone walls, French farm implements, and a Joan d’Arc sculpture.   We spent the next few days trekking across San Francisco, taking in the sites and reveling in the cool temperatures.


Kirsten Rabe Smolensky and Fred Winer receiving certificates for their service at FAE

Kirsten Rabe Smolensky and Fred Winer receiving certificates for their service at FAE

Now, it’s back to the office and the rather large stack of appraisals that need to be completed.

Brenda Simonson-Mohle

The Sixth Annual Dallas Art Fair

The Sixth Annual Dallas Art Fair was a success this year. I say it every time the show comes around, but this is a great opportunity for both collectors and art aficionados to see and purchase some of the best in modern and contemporary artworks available from all over the US and overseas. If you were not able to make it this year, here is a quick video summary of the show compiled by BlouinArtInfo titled, “60 works in 60 seconds.”

Art dealer Chris Byrne and real estate investor John Sughrue founded the festival in 2008 by looking at themselves as the audience and asking, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to go to a contemporary, postwar art fair in Dallas?’ They decided to make it happen. It started with talking to gallerists who were working with collectors and museums, and has continued to grow since then.

And it has grown steadily each year. This year the Fashion Industry Gallery hosted almost 100 galleries, all of which were invited to participate. The galleries show support for one another and each year recommend others they feel would do well at the show. The invitation to exhibit is a unique aspect of the fair, it is a distinguishing factor that cultivates a great overall exhibition for the diverse collecting audience Dallas brings.

As I spent the afternoon walking through the galleries and snapping photographs, the necessity of experiencing contemporary art in person made itself readily apparent – as it always does. One just cannot get the full effect without being in the same room as the artwork, actually sharing the space and appreciating its scale, dimension, use of paint….the spectator has to engage with the result of all these factors. Photographs just don’t do justice.

Take this 36 x 48” oil on canvas by Madison Gallery– La Jolla, CA- artist Hunt Slonem called, “Morphos & Catelayas.” It looks interesting enough at first glance, but the surface texture and how Slonem has handled the paint changes everything. From afar it looks like the artist has tried to give the butterflies movement through line work and cross-hatching, but once the viewer gets closer to the piece they see the layering.

Slonem (American, b. 1951) is known for this technique in his portrait, butterfly, bunny rabbit and bird paintings. He creates the image and fills the entire canvas, building up layers of paint as he goes. Then, as the paint has started to dry and stiffen a bit, he uses the opposite end of the paintbrush to scratch and drag the paint.

The end result is a texture that keeps the eye moving across the work, following the lines of the grid and jumping from color to color. It captures light, creates shadow, and draws the viewer in.

Another work that caught my attention was a work by Emil Lukas (American, b. 1964). I saw the 32 x 26 x 3.5” piece when I walked into Hosfelt Gallery’s –San Francisco, CA -booth. It was on the back wall and it had a fuzzy, almost ghostly look to it. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So, as good contemporary art does, it pulled me in.

It was thread! Silk thread woven over a painted wooden frame and held in place by nails. This engaging work, titled “Sound of Spinning, #1360,” comes from a series Lukas has been working on for over three years. He calls them thread paintings, and estimates he has probably used over a mile of thread on some works.

The work is a very interesting approach to surface. It is simple and impactful. Utilizing color theory and layering of the silk, the artist is able to give depth and create opacity. The webs of thread are kept dense at the edges and loose towards the center. The interior panel of wood is painted white and it shows through the silk. The end result is incredible. It tricks the eye and engages the audience to find out what is really going on.

Another set of work that attracted my attention was by Korean artist Seon-tae Hwang.

Again, it is hard to tell from images, but these things glow – literally. They are tempered glass, sandblast, and LEDs. The LEDs are behind the glass and they illuminate the works to emulate the sun. Rays of light reach in through windows and a broken roof; they cast long shadows and run over bright green plants. I saw these and knew they would get a glowing review from the audience….eh? Glowing…see that? It’s a pun cause they glow. Good art, bad jokes, moving on.

Another element that points to the Dallas Art Fair’s success and growing influence is the number of foreign exhibitors. This year they made up almost twenty percent of the galleries attending. Seon-tae Hwang is represented by GAMO Gallery in Seoul, Korea. The combination of great collectors, museums, overall atmosphere (we call it Southern charm) and quality artwork has allowed the fair to gain an influence that draws galleries like GAMO to attend.

Some more cool stuff:

A work by Carol Young, represented by Columbian gallery Beatriz Esguerra Art, is made to look like scrolls of paper, but the artist uses ceramic. I really wanted to pick one of these up. The pages are empty, but the detail of creases and folds are recorded. There is an interplay with the eye as you look at the stacked scrolls. They appear light and fragile, much like aged paper, but they have the strength and durability of ceramics. The installation pushes against the audience’s view of the material in front of them.

Paul Villinski’s work, “Mirror IV” made from an Antique wood frame, aluminum from found cans, wire, steel and Flashe paint, is very engaging. The butterflies cast shadows onto the wall, each other and the frame, all of which is covered in a thick layer of Flashe paint. Flashe is a vinyl acrylic that dries very quickly and is matte; the finish resembling the powder pigment used by Anish Kapoor on many his sculptures.


Villinksi (American, b. 1960), represented by Morgan Lehman Gallery -New York – is a pilot and environmentalist, so imagery of flight and recycled materials are often found in his work.

These geometric Flashe on linen works by Eamon Ore-Giron (American, b.1973) of Et Al – San Francisco, CA – were interesting. The matte result of the Flashe paint on top of the shimmering raw linen makes the paint pop off the surface. This is enhanced by the use of bold shapes and bright colors coupled with the perspective play the artist employs through line.

The award for my favorite gallery at the show goes to Gallery Henoch of New York City. Henoch has some of the best contemporary painters who paint realism (hyperrealism, photorealism, superrealism) each putting their own spin on representational imagery. They represent some of my favorite working contemporary artists, the likes of Eric Zener, Robert Jackson, Steve Smulka, Janet Rickus and Steve Mill.

 Here is “A Bird Painting” by Janet Rickus (American, b. 1949) of Gallery Henoch.  Rickus paints realistic still life oil paintings, a lot of her work depicting fruit and vegetables in natural light.

The objects are painted to actual size and are placed atop table linens that cooperate with her subject matter’s color and form. She gives great attention to detail, whether tending to the soft shadow in a crease of the tablecloth or the smooth line of a jar; her work makes you want to reach in a pick up an item from the table.

I was pulled in by a 32 x 42” oil on linen by Steve Smulka. Because look at that thing… His play with light and reflection is great. This work “True Blue” has several glass containers huddled together. They are oversized and lean slightly toward the viewer, imposing on your space. His skill is evident in his treatment of the glass, but his works are all about the light. The light is what gives the work movement and life. The linen is almost monochromatic, saturated in blues and turquoise. By using deep blacks for cast shadows and bright white for reflection and light, Smulka transforms the glass; he makes it hyperreal, much more than just bottles.

This is Robert Jackson’s 48 x 49” oil on linen called “No Diving.” Jackson’s works are realistic, colorful and full of whimsy. He calls them contemporary still life works because his goal is to take the traditional ideas of a still life painting and bring them into the contemporary world; make them something new.   He takes inanimate, everyday objects and brings them to life. The objects, whether apples, balloon animals, or kids toys, are personified and become characters in a performance, usually with a dose of humor.

Nancy Whiteneck of Conduit Gallery standing next to Ted Larsen's salvaged metal sculpture, "Pure Evil"

Nancy Whiteneck of Conduit Gallery standing next to Ted Larsen’s salvaged metal sculpture, “Pure Evil”

Apples, for example, as used in “No Diving” and many of his paintings, have lots of symbolic meaning throughout art history – the sin of man, a forbidden fruit, a representation of knowledge, love…. When Jackson takes the apple, takes the symbol of the apple and all that goes with it, and places it in a whimsical painting, the result is exactly what the artist was going for. Something new. He also does this with his wooden crates. He has taken away the main prop in all of still life painting, the table, and replaced it with fun vintage sugar water crates.

This is the second year the Dallas Art Fair has coincided with Dallas Arts Week, and it wont be the last. In 2013 Mayor Mike Rawlings instituted the Dallas Arts Week to fall on the same week every year. It is a great citywide celebration of the arts; there were literally hundreds of events and venues for people to choose from this year.

As a city, Dallas is steadily growing its presence and reputation in the art world and the increasing success of the Dallas Art Fair is a large contributor. It was a fantastic show!

-M.P. Callender

The Dallas Art Fair – 2014!

The sixth annual Dallas Art Fair launches this weekend! Again, this year the Art Fair is located at the Fashion Industry Gallery at 1807 Ross Avenue.  With almost 70,000 square feet the Gallery is hosting over 90 prominent galleries and dealers, both national and international, all showcasing the finest modern and contemporary works from their artists and collections.

There is a Preview Gala Benefit, which starts on Thursday, April 10, benefiting the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and Dallas Contemporary. Those who opt for the Preview Gala get the early bird opportunity to preview and purchase exhibited works prior to the public opening of the fair.

The Dallas Art Fair, with everything from paintings, prints, sculpture, photography, video and installations by modern and contemporary artists, is not the only thing happening in the Dallas Arts District this week – and this is no accident. Last year Mayor Mike Rawlings instituted the Dallas Arts Week (which started on the 5th and runs until the 13th) to fall on the same week every year, making this the second year for the citywide celebration of Dallas arts.  The week, “is designed to build awareness and appreciation for the cultural renaissance occurring in our city. The campaign will coincide with the ARTsPARK, Dallas Art Fair, DJAM (Dallas Jazz Appreciation Month) and Target Second Saturday, allowing the entire city to participate” according to their mission statement. Mayor Mike Rawlings is even scheduled to moderate a panel discussion on state of the Dallas Arts Scene on Tuesday the 8th.

There is so much to do in Dallas this week! Go for the sixth annual Dallas Art Fair and stay for Kylde Warren Park and the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art and everything going on in Dallas Arts Week and…Ok, there might be too much going on this week to catch it all, so make your choices ahead of time. You can visit the Art & Seek website for a list of events to choose from.

Regular hours for the Dallas Art Fair start on Friday, April 11th.  The Fair will be open from 11am – 7pm on Friday and Saturday, and from Noon – 6pm on Sunday.  Day passes start at $25 and can be purchased at DallasArtFair.com.

This has been one of the best and most anticipated local contemporary shows of the year, don’t miss it!

-M.P. Callender

Looking for your “Antiques Roadshow” moment? Deep knowledge will trump dumb luck every time.

Anyone who has ever tuned in to PBS’s Antiques Roadshow has seen that moment …the owner gets the news that the thingy they bought at the local yard sale or inherited from great aunt Marge or rescued from a trash heap is in actuality a fine example of the work of a famous artist and is worth a fortune.  The owner stands, mouth agape, speechless, gobsmacked, crying or stammering “You’re kidding? You’re kidding?”   Antiques Roadshow started in the late 1970’s in the United Kingdom and came to America in 1997.  By then, the formula for success was already well developed… find the unsuspecting owner with something good.    Share some interesting information about why their item is collectible.  Give a few tidbits of information about a given artist, style, collectible area, etc.  Then surprise the owner on camera with the astounding value of their piece and film the reaction. Very occasionally throw in a good example of a fake or forgery and make those teachable moments about what to avoid in a given area of collecting.   Film the disappointment on that owner’s face as the expert breaks the bad news.  

The tension the viewer feels as the experts deliver the news, the shared excitement one feels for the wonder-struck owner of the expensive masterpiece or the pity the viewer feels as the expert publically debunks an owner’s piece has driven the popularity of the show for years.  It has also ignited a craze for collecting across America.    As the show grew in popularity in America, interest in various areas of collecting grew, awareness and attendance at estate sales, garage sales and the like grew exponentially.  Some of the experts on the show became famous and were treated like celebrities.  Off-shoot television shows were planned and filmed in an effort to capitalize on the success of this show.   Suddenly everyone wanted their own “Roadshow” moment.

As someone who has been an appraiser since the late 1980’s, I can personally report that the number of calls  and emails to my office increased dramatically.     The quality and subject of the calls and emails also changed.    Some of the changes were good.  Who could object to a wider interest in the field of collecting?  When asked what I do for a living by a stranger at a party, the reply “art appraiser” was now met with a little more interest and a few less blank stares.   However, some of the changes were not as fun to deal with.    To at least a small segment of the more naïve fans of Antiques Roadshow, the show’s format left two impressions that are the bane of the professional appraiser’s daily life.   The first being that appraisers are instantaneous founts of information on any artist, style or collectible area and can talk at length about any artist’s biographical information, price range, etc. from memory—no need for research.   I think this one is spawned by the relaxed, seemingly extemporaneous talks the experts give on a piece just as they are about to deliver the value news.   Let me be the one to debunk that myth.   Yes, the on-camera talent are very knowledgeable.   But, before that segment was shot, they also had time to research the item’s recent sales history, to look up and refresh their memory on an artist’s biographical details and often, to confer with other experts in the field.    I have been appraising fine and decorative art since 1987.  I can certainly wax eloquent on a number of topics in the field and love to talk to an appreciative audience who are interested in the subject matter.   But, I do not hesitate for a moment to admit to the caller on the phone that I am not familiar with the name he is mentioning but would be happy to set an appointment for an appraisal.   I have encountered and am very familiar with hundreds, possibly thousands of artists in the last 28 years.   I have a good visual recall and incredible research skills.   If the artist is a major talent, I am likely to know their work.  But, I don’t have their biographical information memorized and appraise far too many items in a given week to hold the latest sales data for every artist in my memory.   That’s why good appraisers get paid to do the research needed.

And, that leads to the second wrong impression that Roadshow has left with some of its more naïve viewers—that all appraisals are free.   It is known by the show’s fans that when they come into your town, you can take a few items, get in line and get a free appraisal.   The Roadshow tapes in the summer months and moves from city to city, inviting local audiences to bring their items in.   These lines sometimes spill out of the venues and snake around the street.  For some collectors, these are opportunities to bring their items, possibly see some of the appraisers they have seen on t.v. and get a free consultation.  Some attend with the hope of having their own Roadshow moment, of finding that their item is a hidden treasure.  Others stop by the “photo booth” and tape their reaction to their experience in hopes that they will get on the program that way.   The lines are long.  The on-air talent is spending most of their time culling through the vast numbers of items that show up for those very rare combinations of a good piece and an uninformed owner.

View of people waiting to have their antiques appraised at the "Antiques Roadshow." Photo - StudioSystemNews

View of people waiting to have their antiques appraised at the “Antiques Roadshow.” Photo – StudioSystemNews

After all, that combination is what drives the popularity of the show. When such combinations are spotted, those appraisers pitch the idea to the show’s producer in hopes of getting the go-ahead to film a segment.  These taped segments are the reason the on-air talents are willing to participate.  It is good marketing for their paid businesses, be it as an independent appraiser, a representative of an auction house or gallery dealer.  They are not paid by the show.  They cover their own travel expenses.   They are willing to do this because the exposure on the show helps market their businesses.  They hope to build their reputation in their field so paying clients will select them over a competitor when the next good job comes up or the next item goes to auction.

In the meantime, several dozen appraisers in various fields who will never appear on camera are taking quick looks at the thousands of items brought in by collectors for that “free appraisal.”   This service should more accurately be called a “verbal consultation” and the difference should be made clearer to the participant.   For the most part, an owner is directed to a table where an appraiser in a given field takes a quick look at their item, tells the owner what they have and gives a unresearched opinion of value range.   With the thousands of items coming in, there is just not time to research each item.   And, quite frankly many items, especially those on the low end, do not warrant research.  A well-trained appraiser can go through hundreds of $ 30-200 items, price them and move on.  They have seen thousands of items in their field and are trained to sort the wheat from the chaff quickly.   These consultations occur verbally and are meant as just that, a consultation.  There is no written document.  The owner does not get an appraisal, a well researched written assessment of the value of an item for a given intended use and within a given marketplace.   The owner gets a few moments with a trained appraiser and gets a free opinion of value.   That is a valuable commodity for which the owner has exchanged an entire day standing in line.  The appraisers, who have spent years studying in their areas and more years honing their skills and attending required appraisal courses are giving their time for free.   But, this is not the norm.   On a day-to-day basis, appraisers are paid for their time and expertise.

I have been sometimes amused, sometimes befuddled and frankly sometimes a bit irritated with the requests for free appraisal work.   I get several emails weekly, each with attached images, stating a version of the following… “I own this thingy.  What can you tell me about it. Thanks, George.”   My assistant long ago developed a standard email reply that gives our hours of business and invites the emailer to call to discuss appointment times and costs.”   We get several similar calls per week.   We try to handle them in a kind and professional manner and to point out that appraisal is my profession.  I charge by the hour for my services.   Some have a lightbulb moment when this is explained.  Oddly enough, others are insulted that we would think of charging for appraisals.   Ah well… it is what it is.

When people do find out in a social setting that I am an appraiser, the Roadshow moment question is quite often the next topic of discussion.  “What have you found that was a big surprise?”    That has occasionally happened, of course.   But, it is much rarer than fans of the show would like to believe.  I have appraised hundreds of items of very high value.  But the owners were connoisseurs who knew they had items of value.   I have also had many occasions to disappoint folks who thought they got an incredible find at a garage sale or estate sale.  The client paid $ 10-50 for an item they thought was an original such-and-so and I have to be the one to say that they paid fairly for the reproduction copy of it.

I am a big fan of passionate collecting.   I am also an advocate of building one’s connoisseurship in a field of collecting.   If you do want to be the person that makes a great find at a tag sale, it is much more likely to happen if you bring with you a knowledge base for what it collectible in the field.   Deep knowledge will trump dumb luck every time.    Perhaps, rather than randomly acquiring things and hoping that you happen on a find, the better strategy would be to start studying up buying smart.  You might not get selected to appear on television since you will be a knowledgeable collector.  But, you will have the satisfaction of collecting and really appreciating the items you own.


Whitehall Antiques

Where does one start?  Pick a field you like and start attending sales in the area.  Start buying books about the collectibles you like.  Start trying to better understand why one item in the field is considered more desirable than others.   Take some classes that will help you identify items in your field.   In that vein, I will mention here a good seminar coming up this summer and give you a link.  Whitehall Antiques in Chapel Hill, NC is hosting their 34th annual seminar on antiques and collectibles from July 20th-25th.  The very talented and knowledgeable Elizabeth and David Lindquist are speaking on silver July 20-21st.  I will be speaking on prints July 22nd and on paintings July 23rd.  Then the Linquists spend the next two days on wood identification.  You can sign up for these topics individually or take the whole week of classes.   These classes are very hands-on and focused on teaching both the basics and advanced skills of identification.   Whether you are a novice or a professional, you will get a lot of good information from taking the courses.   Here’s the link to their homepage, Whitehall Antiques, and here is a link with information about the 34th Annual Summer Seminar Series on Antiques, aka: Antiques Camp.

I can tell you that I do not teach all that often.  When I do, I bring lots of examples so that everyone in the class will have a chance to personally inspect and understand the subject.   Plus, this is a lovely area for a vacation.   Come join us this summer and learn more about these fields of collecting.

-Brenda Simonson-Mohle

Edward Hopper: A Painter’s Process

One of the best exhibitions of the year is currently showing at the Dallas Museum of Art.
“Edward Hopper, A Painter’s Process” opened on November 17th and will continue to run until February the 16th.  The touring exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and includes over 200 works.  It focuses on the intricate creative process of well-known artist, Edward Hopper (1882-1967).  By bringing preparatory drawings, sketches, watercolors, prints and ledger notes together with the paintings they led up to, this show invites the viewer into Hopper’s studio where one can observe how he transformed the ordinary and regular into some of the most memorable images in American art.  It surveys Hopper’s accomplishments as a draftsman, and pairs many of his greatest oil paintings with their preliminary drawings and related pieces.

Edward Hopper 1882-1967, Soir Bleu, 1914. Oil on canvas. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1208. ©Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art. © Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Edward Hopper 1882-1967, Soir Bleu, 1914. Oil on canvas. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1208. ©Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art. © Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Hopper worked from real life for the first step of his process, a step he called “from the fact,” often drawing and sketching on site before returning to his studio to complete a piece.  He was meticulous in his preparation, drawing and creating extensive studies for a new work before approaching the canvas.

In the show there are over thirty-five drawings, sketches and caricatures that were created in preparation for his 1914 painting, “Soir Blue” (Blue Evening).  The work is somewhat odd for Hopper’s oeuvre.  It is highly figural and, until this painting, the vast majority of the artist’s canvas works were either landscapes or cityscapes with small or nonexistent figures.  His works were very spatial and space positive.  In this 3 x 6’ canvas Hopper places seven characters on a small restaurant balcony, all who impose on each other’s space but, in true Hopper style, do not interact.  On the far left is a working class man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his hands folded atop the small table.  In the center a pale prostitute stands with over-rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick looking over a clown in makeup and full garb.  On the far right, an upper-class couple sits in their evening attire.  Each character seems to come from decidedly different backgrounds and each is absorbed in their own thoughts.

The piece is the artist’s commentary on Parisian culture and the different levels of Parisian society.  It is a culmination of Hopper’s time in Europe, which he visited three times between 1906 – 1910.  The work failed to attract attention from critics when he included it in a mixed exhibition in 1915, and the lack of response pushed him back to American subjects and subject matter.  Hopper rolled the painting up and hid it away in storage.  It was not seen again until long after his death.

Edward Hopper, Study for Morning Sun, 1952. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art, N.Y.

Edward Hopper, Study for Morning Sun, 1952. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art, N.Y.

As seen above in “Study for Morning Sun,” Hopper would make notes on his drawings for color choices and other suggestions to consider; “cool shadow,” “light green,” “gray green,” “legs cooler than arms,” “cool halftone,” “warmer.” It is these fascinating insights which connect the audience directly to the artist, and the interaction is somewhat mischievous.  As the viewer observes the hand scribbled notes and sees where the first campaign was erased and has been reworked, there is a sort of breaking the rules response – because these notes were not for you, the charcoal smudged alterations were not intended for you to see.  It was the end result, the painting in preparation, which Hopper was toiling towards for you to view.

In the show there are three studies for his 1943 oil on canvas “Summertime.” 

Summertime, 1943 Edward Hopper (1882–1967) Oil on canvas 29 1/8 x 44 inches Delaware Art Museum. Gift of Dora Sexton Brown, 1962

Summertime, 1943, Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 44 inches, Delaware Art Museum. Gift of Dora Sexton Brown, 1962

Through his initial sketches we see the minute changes made and contemplated during his thought process.

In one of the preparatory drawings Hopper’s wife Josephine is the model (above left).  She stands tall with her hands behind her back, conservatively dressed as she looks off to her right.  In another sketch there is no figure, and Hopper is looking at the building from a slightly different vantage point, showing more of the building’s façade and windows and shifting the angle of the light faintly (above right).  These rough, early studies are very engaging when looking at the finished painting.

In the completed painting, a woman stands on the steps of a building looking into the distance, her gaze flat; expressionless.  She is wearing a clinging, somewhat translucent dress with a tight bodice and red lipstick.  The bright sun washes over her and stretches her dark shadow and the shadow of the building’s columns over the steps.  To her right, a curtain seems to be set in motion in the hot day; possibly from an interior fan, or perhaps the woman is standing still as she welcomes a breeze, silent in the small grace of the summertime.

Seeing the three works in conversation highlights Hopper’s second step in his process, which was imagination.  First he works “from the fact,” drawing from life and in the moment, then moves into the studio and works with imagination. In working on the paintings, Hopper referred to his drawings as a reminder of how light and shadow played off an architectural space and the figures within it.  His color choices came from sense memory and his imagination.

This is particularly intriguing when looking at the sketches for “Summertime” compared with the final product.  We are able to glimpse the jump Hopper made from a woman on the steps to a woman alone in the world, isolated in a sweltering urban New York City.  Through the strong verticals and horizontals of the architecture and sidewalk he has made the city still and the mood calm, almost an eerie quiet, which is only intensified through the solitary subject’s pensive stare into what we cannot see or know.  There is no certain narrative, only the empty modern existence.

This is the bread and butter of the exhibition; a combination of sketches, preliminary drawings, notes or prints are presented prior to the painting they eventually culminated into.

There are three sketches for “Hotel by the Railroad.”

Hotel by a Railroad 1952
Oil on canvas
79.4 x 101.9 cm © Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation

Hotel by a Railroad 1952
Oil on canvas
, 79.4 x 101.9 cm © Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation

The drawings show the male figure in many positions; his shoulders slouched, his shoulders straight, leaning, not leaning.  They focus on his hands, a subject Hopper was fascinated with and had mastered in his early years as a student, having him hold different items; they put him close to the window, in the center of the image; arm at rest with the elbow bent, arm raised slightly.  No angle is left unexamined.  Hopper considers and reconsiders every detail.

Three sketches for “Hotel Lobby.”

Edward Hopper, "Hotel Lobby", 1943, Oil on canvas, 32 x 40", Indianapolis Museum of Art, William Ray Adams Memorial Collection

Edward Hopper, “Hotel Lobby”, 1943, Oil on canvas, 32 x 40″, Indianapolis Museum of Art, William Ray Adams Memorial Collection

Seventeen sketches for “New York Movie” are included, one of the most interesting being a journal entry with a pen and ink sketch of the theater.

Edward Hopper, "New York Movie", 1939, Oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, Given Anonymously

Edward Hopper, “New York Movie”, 1939, Oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, Given Anonymously

Two sketches for “Approaching a City” are shown.
(which came to the Amon Carter last year – see our review here)

Edward Hopper, "Approaching a City," Acquired 1947, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Edward Hopper, “Approaching a City,” Acquired 1947, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

More than fifteen various drawings for his most famous work, “Nighthawks” made the show.  Unfortunately, the actual finished painting was not shipped for this leg of the exhibition.  It is represented by a gicleé on canvas stand-in.  This flat reproduction was quite disappointing to the viewer.

Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Study for Nighthawks, 1941 or 1942. Fabricated chalk and charcoal on paper; 11 1/8 × 15 in. (28.3 × 38.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase and gift of Josephine N. Hopper by exchange

Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Study for Nighthawks, 1941 or 1942. Fabricated chalk and charcoal on paper; 11 1/8 × 15 in. (28.3 × 38.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase and gift of Josephine N. Hopper by exchange

Curator Carter E. Foster culled through over 2,500 drawings from the Josephine Hopper Bequest in preparation for the exhibition.  Carter is the Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  In choosing pieces to be included within the exhibition he commented that he sought to “pick great drawings and also show the entire range, from the earliest work to the latest work…” while considering the paintings that would be available for display to really illustrate and present Hopper’s unique process.

This is a fantastic show for both Edward Hopper and American art enthusiasts; it is a rare opportunity to study an artist’s working process and to appreciate both the contributions of the drawings to the finished paintings and the merits of them as art objects unto themselves.  It ends February 16th.  Don’t miss it!

-M.P. Callender

Nazi Looted Art Case: Restitution

There has been continual coverage of the 2011 discovery of over 1,400 Nazi-seized paintings made public this month.  It is a fascinating story with lots of moving parts:

  • The sheer value of the art is tremendous, initial estimates ranging from $1.3 – $1.8 billion.
  • Cornelius Gurlitt, the 80-year-old recluse who inherited the works is a very interesting character, to say the least.
  • But the reason the case is being so widely covered and getting so much attention…Restitution
Work recovered believed to be by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Work recovered believed to be by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Photo Credit: Michael Dalder/Reuters

Confiscated artwork does not equal restitution. In 1938, the Nazi government ordered all state-run museums to remove “degenerate art” from their collections.  As a matter of fact, proof that a piece was in a German museum prior to 1938 is good proof that it was not stolen from a Jewish family.  No moral dilemma.

There is a great article out by the New York Times today that goes into detail on the 1938 law that gave Nazi’s the right to seize “degenerate art” and sell it in the open market.  Very interesting and informative read discussing how to handle the law, which is still on the books today – check it out.

-M.P. Callender
Signet Art

How To Recognize Famous Painters According To The Internet

Art history has never been so easy!

Reddit user DontTacoBoutIt (now a dead account) posted a series of famous paintings and gave short but hilariously accurate explanations on how to recognize their authors. The website www.boredpanda.com reposted the original series of images along with a few additions.  It is a fun and whimsical post so we have cleaned up some of the language from the original posting and shared here.

Though some may fault them for being gross over-generalizations, these descriptions take the recognizable essence of each painter’s work and sum it up quite well using recent cultural icons as reference points.

If everyone in the paintings has enormous butts, then it’s Rubens.


If all the men look like cow-eyed curly-haired women, it’s Caravaggio.


If everybody has some sort of body malfunction, then it’s Picasso.


If it’s something you saw on your acid trip last night, it’s Dali.



If the images have a dark background and everyone has tortured expressions on their faces, it’s Titian.



If the paintings have tons of little people in them but otherwise seem normal, it’s Bruegel.


If everyone – including the women – looks like Putin, then it’s van Eyck.

van Eyck

van Eyck2

If the paintings have lots of little people in them but also have a ton of crazy stuff, it’s Bosch.


If everyone looks like hobos illuminated only by a dim streetlamp, it’s Rembrandt.


If the painting could easily have a few chubby Cupids or sheep added (or already has them), it’s Boucher.



If everyone is beautiful, naked, and stacked, it’s Michelangelo.



If you see a ballerina, it’s Degas.


If everything is highly-contrasted and sharp, sort of bluish, and everyone has gaunt bearded faces, it’s El Greco.

El Greco

If every painting is the face of a uni-browed woman, it’s Frida.


Dappled light but no figures, it’s Monet.


Dappled light and happy party-time people, it’s Renoir.


Dappled light and unhappy party-time people, then it’s Manet.


Lord of the Rings landscapes with weird blue mist and the same wavy-haired aristocratic-nose Madonna, it’s Da Vinci.

Da Vinci

Da Vinci2

Excel sheet with colored squares, it’s Mondrian.


Knoedler Gallery: The Value of Forgery

Knoedler Gallery, the second oldest fine art dealer in the country, closed abruptly in late 2011 after 165 years of business in the art world.

The gallery’s website was taken down and replaced with a note.

            “It is with profound regret that the owners of Knoedler Gallery announce its closing, effective November 30, 2011. This was a business decision made after careful consideration over the course of an extended period of time. Gallery staff are assisting with an orderly winding down of Knoedler Gallery.”

Knoedler Gallery

Knoedler Gallery. Photo cred: Artinfo

No one answered the phone.  The doors were locked.  One of the most prestigious galleries that helped create and cultivate American art was finished, and it took the art world by surprise.

Born in Bavaria, Michael Knoedler immigrated to New York to open a branch for Goupil, Vibert & Company, a Parisian dealer he worked for at the time.  He established Knoedler and Company in 1846 and attracted wealthy clientele from the California gold rush and the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania.  By 1859 he was able to buy out Goupil and move his gallery to North Broadway.  Not much is known about Knoedler himself, but he cultivated a reputation for his gallery and for American Art.  Before his death in 1878, he brought his son, Roland, into the business to take lead; his other sons, Edmond and Charles, also joined later.

The rest of Knoedler’s history is extensive and romantic; the gallery is praised as being essential to the American art world and as an institution that represented great artists.  However, as allegations of forgery and corruption taint its glorified history, Knoedler Gallery is also going to be remembered for its downfall.

Eight lawsuits have been filed by customers who claim they were fooled into buying forged artworks purported to be originals from the hand of modern masters like Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn.  As of August, two of these claims have been settled, one involving a Jackson Pollock action-painting purchased for $17 million.

Fake Jackson Pollock  Glafira Rosales presented to Ann Freedman as authentic.

Fake Jackson Pollock painting Glafira Rosales presented to Ann Freedman as authentic. Photo cred: NYDailyNews

Stories and articles detailing the accusations as they unfolded against Knoedler, and Knoedler’s response to those accusations, have been bouncing around since the gallery shut their doors in November, 2011.  Boiling down all the moving parts and players leaves: Ann Freedman – Knoedler’s former gallery director, president and 31-year employee who resigned in October of 2009; Julian Weissman – a dealer in his own right who worked for Knoedler in the 1980’s; Glafira Rosales – a dealer from Long Island; and Pei-Shen Qian- a 73 year old immigrant from China and struggling artist.

There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, more than 60 drawings and paintings in question and over $80 million spent on them, but when looking past the trees to see the forest it is all pretty straight forward.  Glafira Rosales found Pei-Shen Qian in Queens and paid him to paint fakes for her (only a few thousand dollars for each piece). She then took those fakes to Ann Freedman at Knoedler Gallery or Julian Weissman and, over a period of 15 years, sold them as newly discovered works.

Rosales claimed she obtained the majority of the paintings from a collector who did not want to be named.  This collector, later referred to as “Mr. X” or “Secret Santa,” supposedly inherited the artwork from his father.  Throughout this ordeal Knoedler gallery, Ann Freedman and Julian Weissman have repeatedly stressed they never doubted the authentication of the artworks provided by Rosales.  Even without documentation of provenance, they always believed the pieces to be authentic.

The civil lawsuits filed by collectors claim Knoedler Gallery, Ann Freedman or Julian Weissman sold them fake Abstract Expressionist artworks that Glafira Rosales provided.  It is now known all the paintings were done by Pei-Shen Qian in the style of well-known Abstract Expressionist masters, and the thing is – they were well done.  There is a high skill level behind Qian’s trained hand.  He was able to study, master, and replicate the techniques and individual nuances associated with each artist he copied.  His fakes, purported to be and marketed as authentic originals, flew under the radar and passed initial sniff tests by experts; for the first few years there was no suspicion, nothing that raised red flags or caused concern.

It wasn’t until 2009, when several Robert Motherwell works were questioned and investigated by the F.B.I., that the bubble burst.  Rosales was arrested and released on a $2.5 million bond as she awaited trial for the criminal charges brought against her, and, so far, she is the only person being criminally charged. Her trial was scheduled for Monday, September 16.  Ann Freedman has brought two defamation of character suits as of this September, claiming several news outlets did not do due diligence in reporting the experts she consulted regarding authenticity on a number of paintings.  Mr. Qian, the man behind the “Secret Santa” and “Mr. X” monikers, has since fled to China.

It was recently reported that Freedman sold 40 counterfeits and Weissman sold 23; clients who purchased the fakes Rosales provided are suing both Freedman and Weissman in civil court.  The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York released a statement stating Rosales earned $33.2 million selling the forgeries to the Manhattan galleries through Freedman and Weissman; the galleries then sold the Rosales fakes and profited over $47 million total.

The dust is settling as much of the media hyped ‘forgery in the art world’ moves from the gallery to the courtroom.

But what of the value of forgery?  Who is to blame, really?

Many responses to Knoedler Gallery’s involvement in the long-running fraud mock the art world, asserting if experts and collectors can be fooled it’s their own fault.  Likewise, praise is brought to Rosales and Qian for swindling millions of dollars out of the hands of those elite who could afford to buy and invest in such property.  This response, letting the rich endure the consequences of their privileged investments, comes up in the debate of forgeries; especially when the forgeries have passed the tests of experts and allowed the thieves to profit.

Make no mistake – they are thieves.  People like Wolfgang Beltracchi, Ken Perenyi, John Myatt, and Han van Meegere (to name a few) are crooks.  They create a product, create a story surrounding it, or, in some cases, fabricate provenance materials; then, profit off those they are able to fool.  Like the Rosales-Qian team, these forgers were skilled and conniving, able to deceive and trick the eye in order to cash-in.

So why is there a portion of the public who cares not for the losses suffered by collectors and investors?  Why is art fraud considered by the public as different from other forms of fraud, even though real people suffered?  Honestly, it beats me.

I mean, OK, I get it – the average family working to keep debt at bay and a roof over their heads doesn’t have much sympathy for the guy who loses a few million on a forged painting.  But, it makes no sense for the forger to be portrayed as a Robin Hood with a paintbrush.  It is illogical to assert the mindset that, ‘the rich got what they deserved’ by purchasing or investing in artwork that turned out to be fake.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but at least this fraud ring has been found-out.  As of 1:24 p.m. this last Monday, Glafira Rosales pleded guilty to all nine counts brought against her, including wire fraud, filing false tax returns and money laundering, that she faced in connection with the ongoing investigation of the sale of forged works of art by the now-closed Knoedler gallery.  When asked by the judge to explain why she is guilty Rosales admitted to, “falsely represented authenticity and provenance” on works sold to Knoedler Gallery and Julian Weissman Fine Art as being works by abstract expressionists including Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell.  She confessed the works were “actual fakes created by an individual residing in Queens.”

Fake Mark Rothko painting involved in the fraud Photo cred: NYDailyNews

Fake Mark Rothko painting involved in the fraud
Photo cred: NYDailyNews

She faces up to 99 years in prison, though her sentence is likely to be far less, and $81 million in restitution.  She is free on bail and will officially be sentenced in March of 2014.

Greed will make people do crazy things. Rosales will likely spend the rest of her life in prison.  But that cannot undo the damage she has done.  Her actions shut down one of the longest running art galleries in American history, cost many people their jobs, soiled the reputation of several dealers and experts in the art world and cost real people real money and anguish.

So, the value of forgery?

Forgery involves an intention to deceive others about a work’s history, and for Glafira Rosales the value of forgery came down to facing a maximum of 99 years in prison and 81 million dollars to make amends for the damages she caused.

That’s a stiff consequence but the art world will be sorting out the damage she has done for many years to come.

-M.P. Callender







Recent articles on the case

New York Daily News
The New York Times
Art Daily
Art Market Monitor