Apr 23, 2018

A Canadian civil lawsuit over an allegedly forged Norval Morrisseau painting has resurfaced questions of widespread fraud in the artist’s market.

A ruling is expected soon in a lawsuit brought by Kevin Hearn, frontman of the band Barenaked Ladies, against Joseph McLeod, a Toronto dealer who sold the musician a $20,000 work attributed to Morrisseau, the National Post reported. Hearn loaned the painting to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which had to take the piece down after concerns were raised it was forged. When Hearn confronted McLeod, the dealer insisted the work was authentic, but Hearn was not convinced and filed suit in 2016. Witnesses for Hearn described an Ontario fraud ring led by a drug dealer named Gary Lamont that produced hundreds of fake paintings in the 2000s attributed to Morrisseau, a First Nation artist dubbed the “Picasso of the North.” Lamont is reportedly currently incarcerated for sexually assaulting young men, and McLeod died prior to trial. But another dealer, James White, stepped in to challenge Hearn’s lawsuit, arguing that unchallenged allegations of fraud in the artist’s market, which have long-circulated, could “destroy” Morrisseau’s market and, by extension, his legacy as an artist. The defense has argued the allegations of a fraud ring is hearsay, with no direct participant testifying in the trial, and that there is no direct proof the work sold to Hearn was produced by the alleged conspiracy.