Bizarre Pollock forgery scam targets unwary collectors in the US

Bizarre Pollock forgery scam targets unwary collectors in the US

One of the suspected fakes submitted to IFAR in 2013, painted in acrylic on cardboard and signed “Jackson Pollock” (Photo courtesy IFAR)

A forgery scam that poses a “significant threat” to unsuspecting art buyers has been uncovered by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), which has identified four fakes purportedly by Jackson Pollock that were brought to it for authentication by three different owners. All the works surfaced starting in 2013, and are said to have come from the collection of James Brennerman, who, as far as IFAR can determine, is a fictitious identity.

The organisation, which has helped authenticate works by the artist since the Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board was disbanded in 1995, outlined its investigation into the forgeries in the most recent issue of its IFAR Journal. It has seen photographs of ten other fake Pollocks and spotted another one online, all apparently from the same cache. To date IFAR is aware of less than two dozen possible fakes, but it fears there may be many more, since the paintings submitted to it were accompanied by a hefty dossier of documents referring to Brennerman’s collection of more than 700 works by Pollock. Those documents also refer to paintings by artists including Kline, De Kooning, Renoir, Monet, Hassam, Rothko, Manet, Hopper, Motherwell and Gorky, which Brennerman envisioned would “eventually form the core of his own art museum”, the IFAR Journal reports.

Unlike the high-profile Old Master fakes scandal in Europe and the forgeries sold by Knoedler, this scam is not aimed at the super-rich in major art centers. It targets modest collectors and so far is unfolding in the Mountain States and along the East Coast, among “a whole network of people who are not professional dealers, a different world from what we’re used to”, says Dr Sharon Flescher, IFAR’s executive director. While millions were spent on a single forgery sold through Knoedler, many more fakes are offered to this less sophisticated community at far lower prices, with sales in the five-figure range. As a result, “they circulate more easily”, Flescher says, adding that those figures can add up because of the potentially large number of victims.

The details laid out in the dossier about the collection are sometimes bizarre. The buyers were told Brennerman was a German immigrant who settled in Chicago in the 1940s. Around 1968, he and an art collector friend named Charles Farmer paid cash for 748 Pollocks, “two truckloads” of art. The seller was said to be Pollock’s widow, Lee Krasner. In 1970, Brennerman purchased Farmer’s share. As described through decades of correspondence—all oddly written by Brennerman, “often in poorly-written German” the IFAR Journal notes, but none written to him—the collector eventually went mad, saying he would be  “transported to another planet over which I will rule. I am destined to become a god.”

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