Saturday, October 13, 2012

"The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History?"

For some reason saying "Would you like to come up and see mein Campendonk" doesn't elicit the same response as:
Would You Like to Come Up and See Mein Klimt?
That said, we've been down this road before:
Heinrich Campendonk in the News: "German Art Forgery Scandal Reaches Hollywood"
From Vanity Fair:
One of his forgeries hung in a show at the Met. Steve Martin bought another of his fake paintings. Still others have sold at auction for multi-million-dollar prices. So how did a self-described German hippie pull off one of the biggest, most lucrative cons in art-world history? And how did he get nailed? 
By FEDERICO GAMBARINI/EPA/LANDOV; by Simon Vogel/picture alliance /dpa (painting).
Wolfgang Beltracchi in court in Cologne last fall. Inset: Red Picture with Horses, a painting supposedly by German Expressionist Heinrich Campendonk, forged by Beltracchi; it sold at auction for $3.6 million in 2006.
obody in Freiburg could remember a party quite like it. The date was September 22, 2007, and Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi, affluent newcomers to this lively university town near Germany’s Black Forest, had invited friends and neighbors to celebrate a milestone. Workers had just put the finishing touches on their $7 million villa, after 19 months of extensive renovations. Lanterns lit up the cobblestone walkway to the hillside house, a five-level minimalist structure with a glass and Siberian-larch-wood façade, steel beams, pastel-colored tile floors, and contemporary paintings and sculptures filling every room. The staff of Freiburg’s luxurious Colombi Hotel—where the Beltracchis had lodged in a $700-a-night penthouse suite when they were in town during the remodeling—had prepared the ample food and drink, including magnums of fine champagne. The Beltracchis had even flown in a celebrated four-member flamenco band from Granada to dance and sing for their 100 guests.Spanish ballads floated across gardens and courtyards to the glass pool house. Inside it, the party-goers ogled a large painting by the French Cubist Fernand Léger. Others admired art installations throughout the villa, including Baghdad Table, an intricate stylized aluminum model of the Iraqi capital by the Israeli industrial designer Ezri Tarazi. From the terraces, they took in the lights of the medieval city far below. Wolfgang, a long-haired, 56-year-old Albrecht Dürer look-alike, and Helene, an ingénue-like woman of 49 with waist-length brown hair cut into girlish bangs, had spared no expense to announce their arrival on Freiburg’s scene. “Everybody was blown away,” remembers Michel Torres, who had hired the flamenco dancers on the Beltracchis’ behalf and who had befriended the couple during the years that they lived in southern France. “It was unforgettable.”

Yet mingling with admiration for the Beltracchis’ style and taste was a feeling of unease. None of the architects, lawyers, university professors, and other Freiburg residents knew the first thing about where their hosts had come from, nor how they had amassed their wealth. “One [German] woman asked me, ‘Who is this guy? Is he a rock star?’” recalls Magali Richard-Malbos, another of the Beltracchis’ French friends. “And I said, ‘No, no. He’s an artist, a collector.’”

Strictly speaking, that was true. It would be another three years before the truth about what kind of artist Beltracchi is came out.

‘The big question every reader will want to know is, how and why does a person become an art forger?” Wolfgang Beltracchi tells me. His question is just a tad modest: Beltracchi, in fact, masterminded one of the most audacious and lucrative art frauds in postwar European history. For decades, this self-taught painter, who had once scratched out a living in Amsterdam, Morocco, and other spots along the hippie trail, had passed off his own paintings as newly discovered masterpieces by Max Ernst, André Derain, Max Pechstein, Georges Braque, and other Expressionists and Surrealists from the early 20th century. Helene Beltracchi, along with two accomplices—including her sister—had sold the paintings for six and seven figures through auction houses in Germany and France, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s. One phony Max Ernst had hung for months in a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Steve Martin purchased a fake Heinrich Campendonk through the Paris gallery Cazeau-Béraudière for $860,000 in 2004; the French magazine-publishing mogul Daniel Filipacchi paid $7 million for a phony Max Ernst, titled The Forest (2), in 2006. For the 14 fakes that the Beltracchis were eventually charged with selling, their estimated take was around €16 million, or $22 million. Their total haul over the years must have been far more.
By Joshua Hammer.
Beltracchi working on a fake Max Ernst earlier this year in the German town of Bergisch Gladbasch.
I was meeting with the couple last winter in the dining room of their lawyer’s house in Sürth, an affluent suburb of Cologne. Large windows looked over a snow-dappled garden and, just beyond, the Rhine River, clogged on this bright and frigid February morning with chunks of ice. After complicated negotiations, they had agreed to tell me their story.

Beltracchi, who was wearing jeans and a pale-blue fleece, still appeared every bit the hippie rogue. His shoulder-length blond hair, thinning on top, along with his blond mustache and graying goatee, made him look something like a swashbuckler out of The Three Musketeers, with a touch of Mephistopheles. For 61, he seemed surprisingly youthful, an appearance enhanced by the upper- and lower-eyelid lifts he had received in a clinic in southern France six years ago. Helene, clad in a blue knit turtleneck sweater, her thick tresses cascading to her waist, had clearly done her best to retain her girlish appeal. She looked at her husband adoringly, as he began to explain what drew him into a life of crime.

“Obviously one has to invest a lot of time to achieve success by painting one’s own works,” he told me, displaying a healthy amount of what the Germans call Selbstgefälligkeit, or self-satisfaction. “I was always a guy who wanted to be out and about . . . For me, life is on the outside, not the inside.”...MUCH MORE