The Art World Fraud: Seductive or Sickening?

I wanted to not write this. So much. So much so that I’ve vocalised my disdain for platforming fraudsters and con artists directly to my own writers at FRONTRUNNER and my friends, just to avoid having to actually put pen to paper on the subject. I’ve said, out loud, that I had no interest, or stomach, for providing yet another digital megaphone for those who amount only to sad, common thieves.

But, maybe this means I should have written all this long ago.

The art world is a ripe breeding ground for shady, dishonest, even nefarious behaviours. Why is the art world such an attractive springboard for white-collar crime? I don’t think anyone could say with certainty – at least, publicly. But with opaque valuations, easily-forged documentation, showy (and shallow) “advisors”, and once-vaunted institutions sleeping on the job as they’re robbed in broad daylight (yes, I’m talking about The British Museum), it would be madness to think someone wouldn’t want to take advantage of its darker corners.

It takes panache, guts, and raw braggadocio to stage the scene. Any bad actor’s pantomime will, ultimately, fail at one of two endpoints: knowledge and money. Any con of any kind could follow this path, but the art world does hold a unique surplus of know-it-alls, who would be more than happy to make headlines for their righteous takedown of a potential charlatan. I’ve definitely imagined gleeful scenes in my head where I’m the sole discoverer of a wicked plot to forge a great artwork, holding all of the cards with which to crush the offender. Dick Tracy stuff, you know?

But this is, after all, the Golden Age of the Grifter. And trust me, the art world hasn’t had some terrible burden lifted from itself, even as people like Philbrick, Rosales and Sorokin (a.k.a Delvey) have felt the icy touch of law enforcement. In fact, the public keeps clawing for more of these figures, as if they represent the “rest” of us, trying to outsmart the “system.” The mainstream/global press has failed – miserably – in its coverage of these scandals, in positioning the offenders as innocent bystanders “caught up in the swirl of it all”, with zero push for personal accountability. Netflix is always waiting for the next one, and objectively terrible programmes like Inventing Anna and Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art keep on coming (make them stop, PLEASE.)

So, as I keep rolling my eyes further backward at these headline-hogging shills wanting to capitalise on their boneheaded ventures, it’s time for a confession. Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. Well, not so much that the FBI had come knocking at my door. In my distant, gallerina-girl past almost 20 years ago, I inflated the price of a print – commonly available, today, on eBay in a similar condition for about $1,000 USD – by roughly ten times its actual value. Who were the unfortunate souls who fell for my showmanship? A very lovely, very trusting couple visiting from Connecticut.

No, I did not deserve the outrageous commission I got from that sale. No, I did not finely detail and trace the picture’s provenance from beginning to end with due diligence. No, I did not care (at the time) that I was practically running away with their money. And no, I don’t think they will ever realise that they had been gouged so deeply on a throwaway print that one could find (almost) at a Pottery Barn.

Am I, then, casting stones in a glass house when I denigrate these high-profile scammers? Or maybe I, too, hold a deep fascination into the motives and minds of these grotesque creatures, hoping that a larger veil of justice will – perhaps – descend over them. Maybe someday. Maybe never. Maybe that’s what makes the figure of the fraudster so hypnotic: the seductive and the sickness living in one form.

I think some would call that…art.

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