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Painter Created Million-Dollar Forgeries In Queens Garage, Officials Say

An anonymous painter in New York City created dozens of art forgeries, which sold for more than $80 million, according to prosecutors. The man isn't facing charges — but those who helped sell his Abstract Expressionist canvases as the work of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell are in trouble.

For NPR's Newscast unit, Joel Rose reports:

"Prosecutors believe that one man created 63 expert forgeries at his garage studio in Queens over the course of 15 years. He was paid only a few thousand dollars each. But buyers at two Manhattan galleries paid millions for canvasses they thought were painted by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, among others.

"The man is not charged with a crime. Prosecutors have not released his name."

But, Joel says, officials have charged Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales — with wire fraud and money laundering. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges. As for the gallery, he reports:

"Knoedler and Company, the Upper East Side gallery that sold 40 of the counterfeit paintings, closed abruptly in 2011. Knoedler officials insist they thought the paintings were real."

According to The Art Newspaper, a federal indictment states that Rosales' boyfriend, who is alleged to be a co-conspirator in the case, had first discovered the unknown artist selling his work on the sidewalk in Manhattan.

Jack Flam, an expert in the art of Robert Motherwell who had been among the first to identify some of the works as frauds, spoke to The New York Times.

"It's impressive," Flam says. "Whoever did these paintings was very well-informed of the practices of the artists."

Saying that the works had been crafted to imitate how the legendary painters handled their frames and canvases, Flam adds that "the way we look at reality is highly influenced by the context it's presented to us."

In this case, the art forgeries were presented in the Knoedler gallery, which was more than 165 years old when it closed under a cloud of anger and suspicion.

The scandal, and the gallery's closing, was the subject of a feature in Vanity Fair last year, which reported that the art dealer, Rosales, claimed to be funneling prized works of art from an anonymous collector called "Mr. X Jr."

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