Experts Uncover Pollock Forgery Scam—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.

01  The International Foundation for Art Research has discovered a Jackson Pollock forgery scam that presents a “significant threat” to unwitting collectors.

(via The Art Newspaper and The International Foundation for Art Research Journal)

The organization has already identified four fake Pollocks after three different owners came forward to ask for authentication of the works, which began surfacing in 2013. It first published its findings this year in the IFAR Journal, its quarterly publication. The Pollocks were all said to have come from the collection of James Brennerman, a German immigrant who settled in Chicago in the 1940s and purportedly went mad before he died in 1974, leaving the works to his employees. However, IFAR has not been able to find any evidence of Brennerman’s existence and believes he is a made-up character who never existed, according to The Art Newspaper. “We do not know at this stage who created the works or is the mastermind behind the apparent scam,” IFAR staffers wrote in the journal article. IFAR has uncovered photographs of 10 other fake Pollocks and seen an eleventh online, apparently all from the same cache. The organization has warned of many more potential forgeries, as a dossier that came with the collection describes over 700 works by Pollock and paintings by artists like Mark Rothko and Édouoard Manet. The suspiciously low prices and large quantity of fake work distinguish this scam from other high-profile forgery cases, in which works were often sold for millions of dollars. Dr. Sharon Flescher, IFAR’s executive director, said there are many modest collectors at risk, “a whole network of people who are not professional art dealers.”


02  New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a review of “symbols of hate” around the city.

(via Artforum, Hyperallergic, and the New York Times)

Mayor de Blasio ordered a “90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property” last week, Hyperallergic reported on Tuesday. Among them are the busts of Confederate generals in the Bronx and plaques commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton neighborhood. Many of these monuments were given to New York by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. De Blasio’s move comes in the wake of the violent alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, contesting the removal of a statue of Lee, and subsequent removals of Confederate statues in cities around the country. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have also put pressure on the U.S. Army to rename streets commemorating Confederate soldiers in the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Along with commemorative street names, some of the city’s other historic symbols have come under scrutiny. They include a plaque of Philippe Pétain, a Nazi collaborator, and a statue of the doctor J. Marion Sims, “whose fame as the father of modern gynecology came at the expense of enslaved black women on whom he operated without anesthesia or informed consent,” according to the New York Times.


03  The University of Arkansas has established the state’s first art school, thanks to a $120 million gift from the Walmart founders’ family foundation.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The Fayetteville school’s existing art department became its School of Art after the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation gave the university the single largest gift to an art school at an American university, The Art Newspaper reported. The art school will continue to offer the same undergraduate programs already in place, but will now have new graduate degrees and doctoral programs in art history and arts education, with an emphasis on art of the Americas. The gift also provides for “scholarships, travel grants and internship opportunities,” according to The Art Newspaper. University of Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said he hoped the expanded art school would attract more international and out-of-state students. Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Walmart heiress Alice Walton has established a museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in the same city.


04  Sotheby’s will no longer charge a buyer’s premium in online-only auctions.

(via The Art Newspaper and Sotheby’s)

The auction house announced the change on Tuesday in a press release on its website. CEO Tad Smith also communicated the news in a letter to shareholders dated August 22nd, The Art Newspaper reported Wednesday. David Goodman, a Sotheby’s marketing executive, described online-only sales as the company’s “best tool for attracting first time buyers,” noting that one out of five of those bidders went on to participate in live auctions, where price points are typically higher. The average price point for an online-only auctioned item is just under $10,000, but there have been some low-six-figure sales as well, according to the report. Last year, Sotheby’s held 16 online-only sales and is on pace to hold twice that number this year, still far fewer than the 100-plus online sales Christie’s plans to have held by year-end. Sotheby’s will continue to charge a seller’s commission for online-only sales. In a separate announcement on August 16th, Sotheby’s said it will integrate Latin American art into its contemporary sales in New York.


05  A German far-right politician called an award-winning documenta 14 sculpture “deformed art.”

(via artnet News)

Kassel city councillor Thomas Materner of Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party called the 16-meter obelisk by artist Olu Oguibe “ideologically polarizing, deformed art” last week at a city council meeting. The concrete monument, which won the city’s prestigious Arnold Bode Prize in June and is under consideration for acquisition by the city, has the text “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matthew 25:35) written in gold font in four languages—German, English, Arabic, and Turkish—on each of its four sides. Materner’s characterization of the work echoes the Nazis’ denigration of modern art as “degenerate.” Documenta 14’s artistic director Adam Szymczyk told artnet News in a statement, “I see no way how this quote from the New Testament should be read as divisive or controversial. It is simply human.” Artnet News also reported that documenta 14 cancelled a performance by the Italian writer and media activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi this week after an onslaught of complaints about the work’s title, Auschwitz on the Beach. Szymczyk posted a statement on documenta 14’s website in which he described the Holocaust as “a singular manifestation within human history.”


06  Leaders and staff at New York City’s museums are still overwhelmingly white, a survey has found.

(via the New York Times)

The New York Times asked the city’s major cultural groups for information about racial diversity on their staff and boards, following the announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio that institutions had to diversify or risk losing public funding. There is wide divergence between cultural institutions. “At the Studio Museum in Harlem, 82 percent of the board members are people of color, compared with 25 percent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and 10 percent at the New York City Ballet. Minority staff members also account for 66 percent of employees at the Brooklyn Museum, which prides itself on reaching a diverse audience, while they make up about 41 percent at MoMA PS1,” the paper reported. Curatorial departments still have the most white employees, while maintenance and security have the fewest. Museums struggle to develop diversity among their boards because board membership often requires hefty donations, and wealth in the U.S. is still concentrated amongst white people.


07  A Norman Rockwell study thought to be an inexpensive print sold for $1.6 million at auction.

(via ArtDaily)

Close inspection revealed that the work is an oil-on-paper study for Tough Call (1948), a painting of three baseball umpires deciding whether or not to call off a game due to rain. The Rockwell work first appeared as a magazine cover in 1949. The $1.6 million sale price, at a Heritage auction of sports memorabilia, was more than five times its $300,000 estimate. The buyer has not yet been disclosed. In another case reported this week by the BBC, a British TV presenter and art dealer verified that a painting he had bought for £10,000 and sold for £35,000 was in fact a John Constable work worth £2 million. After the BBC’s “Fake or Fortune?” TV program examined the work and researched its provenance, they concluded it is an early version of the British painter’s famous The Hay Wain. The 1821 version of The Hay Wain was voted one of the U.K.’s favorite works of art earlier this year.


08  Israeli archaeologists have unveiled a 1,500-year-old mosaic fragment with rare and unusual inscriptions.

(via ArtDaily)

The mosaic, which comes from a portion of a floor, is dated to 550 or 551 AD, and honors the founding of what was thought to be a hostel for pilgrims near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, a historic entrance to the Old City. Although the area has a wealth of archaeological treasures, “direct text and letters from people back then are relatively rare,” according to the excavation’s director, David Gellman. The inscription is in Greek and includes the names of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and a senior Orthodox priest who founded the hostel. Gellman told the Agence France-Presse that the three-and-a-half-foot mosaic fragment “tells us about the way churches and monasteries worked back then.” Specifically, he said, “It tells us that the abbot, the head of the big church in Jerusalem, was not only the head of that specific church.” The archaeologists found the mosaic while performing a routine dig before workers were to install communications cables underground.


09  Four hundred Viking objects were stolen from the University Museum of Bergen in Norway in what its director called an “immeasurable” loss.

(via Agence France-Presse)

The heist took place over the second weekend in August, just days before the objects were scheduled for transfer to a more secure location. Thieves accessed the seventh floor by way of the building’s scaffolding, and took mostly small metal items. Henrik von Achen, the museum’s director, admitted that the security measures in place were insufficient. He told Agence France-Presse the objects “do not have monetary value attached to them” but that their loss was “immeasurable” due to their cultural history value. The museum has endeavored to chronicle and post photos of the missing objects on social media to raise awareness and avoid illegal sales. Norwegian police are also collaborating with their international counterparts to investigate the case, which von Achen called “by far the most terrible event in the 200 years of Norwegian museum history.”


10  A museum-goer inadvertently stepped on and damaged an Yves Klein work at a Brussels cultural center.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The interloper’s footprints damaged the piece, Pigment bleu sec, or Dry Blue Pigment, which featured a basin of sand and the artist’s signature blue pigment, “leaving white footprints on the work and blue material on the floor,” The Art Newspaper reported. The 1957 work, part of the Yves Klein exhibition “Theatre of the Void,” is reinstalled each time it is shown with new sand and pigment in the artist’s famous International Klein Blue, and was restored by employees of The Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) just hours after the damage was done. “Even though we have several safety measures (warning signs, a partial barrier and a guard), the man was too fascinated [with the other work] to notice all of that,” a museum spokeswoman told The Art Newspaper. Last week’s episode follows another incident in April when a journalist walked on a similar Klein work during a press conference at the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice. Also last week, in the U.K., a family posed their child in an 800-year-old sandstone coffin at a museum and garden outside of London and snapped off a small piece of it, the New York Times reported. The family left the grounds without reporting the damage to the institution, which will repair it with “special adhesives” for a cost of about $130.


—Artsy Editors

Cover image: IFAR #13.11, purported Pollock, "Brennerman Collection." Photo courtesy International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).