Fake Monet, Renoir paintings cost dealer $31M and his reputation
Alex Komolov, the owner of the Alskom Gallery in Manhattan, is in the midst of a six-year legal battle against his former business colleagues for allegedly selling him more than $31 million worth of fake art. He’s seeking to recoup his money and restore his name.
In lawsuits obtained by Page Six, Komolov claims David Segal and Mohamed Serry tricked him into buying $30 million worth of fraudulent Monet, Vlaminck, Picasso and Manet paintings, among other antiques, between 2007 and 2009. Komolov purchased the works through his company High Value Trading and also claims Segal and Serry, owners of Artique Multinational, skipped out on paying $4.2 million for his New York City condo in 2007.
In a second suit, Komolov is targeting Universe Antiques owner Jack Shaoul for allegedly selling him a fraudulent Renoir painting in 2011 for $1.2 million.
At the time of sale, the men allegedly presented fraudulent certificates of authenticity to gain Komolov’s confidence. “Both paintings and certificates of authenticity are being forged with such technology that Picasso himself, if he could review his work, would not be able to tell the difference between real and fake,” Komolov’s attorney Phil Chronakis of law firm Budd Larner said. Once sold, Komolov had the works appraised by Art Experts Inc., a Florida-based company that specializes in appraisals, authentications and attributions. The company determined the pieces to be fake.
In total, close to 50 different works and other antique artifacts were sold to Komolov. And while the 72-year-old gallery owner may not be able to recover every penny he spent, his most pressing concern is restoring his reputation. He once gifted a Picasso painting to the president of Kazakhstan, his home country, only to learn it was a fake. He immediately told the president the painting was a forgery and apologized for the mishap.
“My client’s business has been damaged by going out of pocket $40 million to obtain items that are essentially worthless,” Chronakis added. “My client does a lot of business in Europe, specifically in Eastern Europe and now parts of Asia, he’s had a concern that this would affect his reputation, which is of course very valuable in business.”
Segal and Serry couldn’t be reached for comment and don’t have any criminal records. Shaoul, on the other hand, was convicted in 1993 on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud for filing bogus art insurance claims. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
When contacted by phone, Shaoul defended himself and blasted Komolov. “The guy is a crazy man,” Shaoul said. “He sued every antique dealer in the center, anybody he does business with, his partner. He’s a sue maniac. He’s been a dealer for 40 years. I’ve been a dealer for 40 years. He bought something from us. Three objects and one of them he wants to return, which we are willing to give him back his money. But he paid for the object $300,000, he says he paid $1.1 million and he made a fake bill, forged my signature, which is criminal. The guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Komolov’s crisis manager Wendy Feldman vowed to do what she can to rescue her client’s image. “Alex is from the old school where your word was your bond,” Feldman said in a statement. “His image still remains very important to him and his gallery and will remain so. It is rare a person who would blow the whistle and spend millions more in legal fees to keep people out of business like David Segal and Mohamed Serry to protect the public. Jack Shaoul should have never been let back into the art world after serving time for a similar crime.”
The sale of forgeries is not uncommon in the art world, says Aviva Lehmann, Director of American Art, New York at Heritage Auctions. “It absolutely happens. You have to have eagle eyes, you have to really do your homework, do your due diligence,” Lehmann explained. “Inspect the work upside down, backwards, forwards, really talk to scholars in the field. It is very easy to have something dubious slip by.”
Though Lehmann says she hasn’t witnessed an uptick in the sale of fakes over the last 10 years, she’s aware of the active black market for such secret deals. “There is a black market for everything. I’ve seen it. There are black markets for artists that you have never even heard of that on a good day can sell for $50,000,” she said. “It’s extraordinary … I’ve seen fakes and forgeries of major masterworks in the eight-figure range. I’m not amazed by anything anymore.”
Komolov’s case against Shaoul heads to trial on Oct. 28 and papers are currently due to the appellate division in the case against Segal and Serry.