January 23, 2011


The forger’s story (John Gapper, January 21 2011, Financial Times Magazine)

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For nearly three decades, Landis has visited ­museums across the US in various guises and tried to donate paintings he has forged. As well as Father Scott, he has posed as “Steven Gardiner” among other aliases. He never asks for money, although museums have often hosted meals for him and made small gifts. His only stipulation is that he is donating in his parents’ names – often his actual father, ­Lieutenant Commander Arthur Landis Jr, a former US Navy officer.

Landis has been prolific and amazingly persistent. A few weeks before he came to Lafayette, “Father Scott” arrived at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, with a ­forgery of Head of a Sioux by Alfred Jacob Miller that he said he was giving in memory of his mother, “Helen Mitchell Scott”. Landis has so far offered copies of that work to five other museums. Yet in all this time, although curators speculate about his motives, no one has found out why he is doing it.

Matthew Leininger, chief registrar of the ­Cincinnati Museum of Art, has spent more than two years tracking Landis’s progress. He estimates that Landis has tried to fool at least 40 museums – and probably many more – in 19 states in cities from Boston and Chicago to Savannah and ­Oklahoma City. Some forgeries have been spotted, yet he has persuaded museums not only to add works to ­collections, but even to hang them in galleries.

Leininger has warned other museums, circulating photographs of Landis taken when he visited the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, and alerted the US tax authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “If you count up the time and resources people have spent on him, it runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “I just want him to stop, but if we can get him on something criminal, that would be even better.”

The difficulty is that, however annoying and disruptive Landis’s activities may be for museums, he does not seem to have broken the law. “The criminal statute [of fraud] says there must be a loss and that’s the problem. There hasn’t been a loss to any victim,” says Robert Wittman, an investigator who used to run the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

This marks out Landis from well-known art ­forgers such as Han van Meegeren, the prewar Dutch painter who specialised in Vermeers and John Myatt, the British artist who was jailed for forging Picassos and Renoirs to be sold by a partner. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist, was recently charged with fraud for allegedly selling forgeries through auction houses including Christie’s with the help of his wife and her sister.

Landis often forges a watercolour by Louis Valtat, a portrait by Marie Laurencin and a drawing by Milton Avery, but he has a wide range. He persuaded the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection of the ­University of Southern Mississippi to take forged Disney drawings of Goofy and Donald Duck, and went to the Bostonian Society in Massachusetts with a forgery of a letter by John Hancock, a signatory to the 1776 Declaration of ­Independence.

Even some of his targets admire Landis’s ­abilities. “I think the fact that someone can produce all of these different styles is pretty phenomenal,” says Gray. Others say that his genius is not as a painter but as a con man. “If you examine them with a ­critical eye, it’s over,” says Jill Chancey, curator of the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi, “The forgeries aren’t masterful but the con is ­persuasive. The con is good.”

...it's art.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2011 9:17 AM
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