Wednesday, March 26, 2008


On March 19, Federal Investigators indicted seven people living in Chicago for dealing in fake art. The fake prints, sold primarily through ebay, included works said to be made by Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, Miro, Calder, and Lichtenstein. The charges were made after a raid in January of the Kass/Meridian Gallery on the Gold Coast.

Two of the dealers, Michael Zabrin and James Kennedy worked in Chicago. While Zabrin provided “certificates of authenticity”, Kennedy forged the signatures and then sold them at art shows throughout the country. Also charged were dealers Patrizia Soliani of Milan, Italy and Miami Beach and Gallery owner Jerome Bengis of Coral Springs. In the same indictment, Leon Amiel Jr., an art broker was charged for placing “shill” bids on the art on ebay to raise the prices. The fact that Amiel was involved at all makes the story even more alarming.

Leon Amiel, Sr. (Leon Amiel, Jr’s father) was the publisher of Modern American Art and was a major force in the art world. He owned Amiel Book Distributors Corporation and Leon Amiel Publishing. It is said that he was friends with Chagal, Dali, Miro, and Picasso. Before his death in 1988, investigators had already begun to look into Amiel’s dealings but when he died his company was taken over by his wife and two daughters. On March 2, 1992, the government filed a thirty count indictment against the Amiel family charging them with mail fraud in connection with the sale of fake prints.

Fake art, forged signatures, and shady dealers are the nightmare of every art collector. But you can take steps to protect yourself and to make sure your investments are what they are purported to be:
1. Ask the dealer for the provenance of the piece. That is, ask them for a documented history of the item. Once you have it follow up. If a gallery is listed call it and ask them what they know about the piece and how they acquired it. Keep doing this until there is no one else to call.
2. Don’t let a dealer appraise your works. It is a conflict of interest. They want you to buy the piece and that, in itself, is a conflict to remaining unbiased.
3. Do your research. If any of the thousands of people throughout the world who purchased the fakes mentioned above had done a quick internet search, they would have discovered that fake prints by these artists have flooded the market for years. Perhaps this would have raised a red flag.
4. If you are buying a very expensive piece, particularly if it is old, try to find out who the expert is in that area and contact them. Have them look at the piece and pay them for their expert opinion (you won’t be sorry!)
5. Hire an appraiser! An appraiser has an extensive knowledge of the market. Although we are not authenticators, we do have expertise, we are excellent researchers, and we are likely to uncover things you would not have expected. Most importantly, we are an unbiased party. We are paid if the item is deemed to be authentic or fake.

1 comment:

John said...

EXPERTS WERE FOOLED! Museums are fooled! There is a website dedicated to art fraud in prints and talks a little about this case. www.Art-Fraud.ORG