Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Con Man and an Art Forger

A con man with delusions of grandeur, his talented but unwitting accomplice, counterfeit records, and hundreds of crimes trailing across all of Europe and the United States: it almost reads like some international spy thriller. But I am actually describing the book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. They track the real story of the conman John Drewe as his ensnares the down-and-out artist John Myatt to sell hundreds of forgeries to some of the biggest auction houses, galleries and museums in the world. While the artistic talent to create the forgeries is certainly impressive, it is Drewe’s ability to perceive the weak point in the system and exploit it. In order to sell art, especially high value works, you have to have the documentation to support that it is fact an authentic work. Drewe realized he could infiltrate archives of various institutions and create the supporting documentation.

Provenance is very well researched and exceptionally written. The thriller plot and extraordinary characters almost seem too well done for real-life events. Yet, the tale is a bit biased toward Myatt and heavily villainizes Drewe. In fact, I would have loved to hear the thoughts of the conman and why he started this grand con and then continued to push it until he got caught. However, the book is still an entertaining and informative tale that does not require vast knowledge of art or cons to follow. Certainly a good read for those interesting in either modern art or a true con.

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