A fake Jackson Pollock, painted by Pei-Shen Qian

Knoedler case forger protests innocence in interview

Pei-Shen Qian tells ABC’s Nightline he was surprised anyone fell for his abstract expressionist forgeries

If you painted a canvas with dripped paint, signed it 'Jackson Pollok' rather than Pollock and received a few thousand dollars in return, are you guilty of forgery? The FBI certainly believe so, and charged septuagenarian Chinese-born artist Pei-Shen Qian with a number of offences relating to the abstract expressionist canvases Qian created, some of which were sold via the Knoedler gallery in New York. 

Qian moved back to China just before the FBI’s charges were brought last April, and is unlikely to return to the US to face justice. However, he has just given this interview to ABC’s Nightline, wherein he protests his innocence.

The channel’s investigative team, headed by reporter Brian Ross, tracked the artist down to a suburb outside Shanghai, where Qian now lives. “My intent was not for paintings to be sold as the real thing,” he claims. “They were just copies to be put up in your home if you liked them.”


Pei-Shen Qian speaking to ABC's Nightline
Pei-Shen Qian speaking to ABC's Nightline

Moreover, the painter thinks the sums he was paid – about $6000 per canvas - indicate that he was never part of a larger conspiracy to sell the works as genuine works, often for many millions of dollars. “Look at my bank account,” he says. “ I’m still a poor artist.”

Qian also tells the reporters that he was shocked that his versions of Pollock, Rothko and others ever fooled anyone. “These copies were supposed to mimic them on a very basic level,” he claims. “I was very surprised people mixed them up.”

The footage, shot in what looks like a modest Chinese apartment, doesn’t portray Qian as a masterful art criminal, but rather a minor player in a larger scandal, designed to pass off 60 or so works as paintings by 20th century artists including Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning.


One of Pei-Shen Qian's original works, Shanghai Landscape no. 4 (2000)
One of Pei-Shen Qian's original works, Shanghai Landscape no. 4 (2000)

Qian was part of Shanghai’s avant-garde art scene in the 1970s before relocating to New York in an attempt to make it within the gallery system. Though he's returned to China, he continues to paint; however, Nightline notes, the artist no longer adds anyone else’s name to his canvases.

Watch the full interview here. For more on the case go here. For a reliable look at Jackson Pollock, order our new Phaidon Focus book; and for a richer understanding of the movement that Qian faked, consider our Abstract Expressonism overview.