Jackson Pollock's Untitled was one of the forged paintings

More arrests in abstract expressionism forgery case

Two brothers arrested in Spain and new indictment in New York reveals how the forgeries were created

Last September we reported on how an American art dealer passed on to collectors forgeries of works allegedly made by some of the greatest artists of the 20th century but which were, in fact, faked by a Chinese septuagenarian in his Queens apartment. You can read the story on the left.

On Monday, the legal case, which has seen court testimony from Phaidon's own Dr David Anfam, commissioning editor in fine art and a renowned expert in Abstract Expressionism, took another twist with an 11 count indictment in a New York court which provided new information on how the forgeries were made. The indictment followed the arrest of two men in Spain last week.

The $33 million art forgery scheme, which placed dozens of fake modern masters on the market between the start of the nineties and the end of the noughties and took down one of America's oldest art galleries, Knoedler & Co and has already seen Chinese artist Pei-Shen Qian, 75 charged for his part in the scheme. He is alleged to have crafted "rediscovered" masterworks by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Sam Francis, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and others. The artist is believed to have gone to ground in China. 


Glafira Rosales
Glafira Rosales

Late last week, brothers Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, 65, and Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, 58, were arrested in Spain. Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz was the former boyfriend of Glafira Rosales, the art dealer who supplied the fakes to Knoedler & Co and other galleries. She pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and other charges last summer and is cooperating with the FBI.

The latest indictment reveals how Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz and Qian created the artworks. Old paintings were bought at auctions and flea markets, and paint was acquired from the periods when the artists' worked. Qian also sourced Masonite (a type of hardboard) from antique furniture in order to recreate the preferred medium of some artists. New canvases were stained with tea bags in an attempt to make them look old.

Qian claimed last year that he did not know his art was being sold as genuine, but that the canvases were for art lovers who couldn't afford the original version. He also told FBI officers that he had never heard of Glafira Rosales, and did not know the names of the artists whose work he allegedly copied. However, his apartment apparently contained a number of books and auction catalogues pertaining to the artists he faked. Prosecutors say it was all part of the painstaking research done to create fake provenances and ownership histories for the forgeries. 


Glafira Rosales complaint
Glafira Rosales complaint

Qian, who was selling paintings on a Manhattan street corner when he was approached by Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, was paid between just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for each painting while the brothers and Rosales apparently amassed tens of millions of dollars. Knoedler & Co. and another dealer sold the fakes for profits close to $40 million.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said of the new indictments: "Today's charges paint a picture of perpetual lies and greed. As alleged, the defendants tricked victims into paying more than $33 for worthless paintings which they fabricated in the names of world-famous artists. The Bergantinos Diaz brothers then laundered and hid their illegal proceeds overseas. With today's indictment, the defendants must now answer for their alleged roles as modern masters of forgery and deceit."

We can't help thinking this story is going to run and run which is why we suggest you get some greater, honest insight into the epic and influential movement centered on New York in the decades following the Second World War via our Abstract Expressionism book. And for some very worldly advice on buying great works big or small, do pick up a copy of Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich Wagner's illuminating and thoroughly entertaining Collecting Art for Love, Money and More. It's a great read whether you plan to invest or just enjoy. And remember to join Phaidon Club before you do.