N.Y. Art Dealer Faces Charges In Forgery Case

Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales is scheduled to be arraigned Monday on charges of money laundering and wire fraud. Prosecutors say Rosales was involved in selling $80 million worth of counterfeit Modernist paintings that turned out to be the work of one anonymous painter.

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A New York art dealer appears in a Manhattan court today charged in an art forgery case that's worth tens of millions of dollars. Authorities say Glafira Rosales was at the center of a scheme to sell dozens of counterfeit paintings attributed to some of the 20th century's greatest artists, fooling some of the nation's leading galleries and collectors along the way. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The paintings were supposed to be the work of blue chip abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and more. They sold for a total of $80 million, but federal prosecutors believe most were the work of one anonymous painter working at his home in Queens. That revelation has art world observers scratching their heads over how supposedly sophisticated galleries and collectors were fooled.

Reva Wolf - who teaches art history at the State University of New York at New Paltz - has a theory.

REVA WOLF, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT NEW PALTZ: If you really want to acquire something by a certain artist, perhaps desire takes over, and what you want to believe becomes very powerful.

ROSE: The alleged forger has been identified by the New York Times as Pei-Shen Qian. He is not charged with a crime, but details about him emerged last week in an indictment of art dealer Glafira Rosales, the woman who allegedly paid him several thousand dollars per canvas. The Upper Eastside gallery that sold many of the paintings - Knoedler and Company - closed abruptly in 2011, after suspicions about the forgeries first came to light.

Both the gallery and its former president, Ann Freedman, face numerous lawsuits. But Freedman's lawyer, Nicholas Gravante, Jr., points out that his client is not facing any criminal charges.

NICHOLAS GRAVANTE, JR.: If she had any second thoughts, any inkling that these might not have been genuine, she would never have gone near them with a 10-foot pole.

ROSE: But art conservation expert Peter Paul Biro says there's a simple reason dealers and collectors are sometimes willing to be fooled.

PETER PAUL BIRO: The principle cause of blindness in the art world today is because of greed and seeking gigantic profits as easily as possible.

ROSE: Biro notes that many of the paintings were easily exposed as fakes after scientific analysis. He hopes the Knoedler case will encourage more collectors and galleries to perform such tests before major sales rather than after. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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