$80 Million Dollar New York Based Art Fraud Gets More Interesting

NEW YORK —ARTINFO  During this Monday morning’s arraignment of Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales on charges connected to an $80-million art fraud, in which dozens of unsuspecting buyers spent millions on what were purported to be paintings by Abstract Expressionist masters, Jason Hernandez, a lawyer representing the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, confirmed that his office is “contemplating additional arrests.” When asked by U.S. District Court judge Katherine Polk Failla whether more arrests were possible, Hernandez, after a brief pause, responded “yes.”
To date, Rosales, who was arrested in May and considered at the heart of the scandal, is the only person charged in the fraud. The dealer entered a Not Guilty plea at today’s arraignment in a downtown Manhattan federal court; her attorney declined to comment. After having been detained in jail for several months and denied bail, Rosales was released last week on $2.5-million bail with travel restricted to the Southern District of New York, and a further requirement to surrender her travel documents and agree to electronic monitoring.
Given the recent bail release as well as new information that emerged in the case, Rosales has likely begun cooperating with investigators. Last week the U.S. attorney’s office handed down a revised indictment known as a “superseding indictment” identifying a “co-conspirator, not named as a defendant herein,” but known to be Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, Rosales’ (possibly former) boyfriend, and a citizen of Spain. Subsequent references to Diaz referred to him as “CC-1.” The charges further confirmed that a painter based in Queens, New York, was the creator of the fake
works. While not named in the charges, a New York Times article on Saturday identified the painter as Pei-Shen Qian of Woodhaven. Qian is currently believed to be in China and has not been charged, though FBI officials searched his home and studio last week, according to neighbors interviewed for the Times story.
According to the revised indictment, “from in or about the early 1990s through in or about 2009 [Rosales]…and CC-1 together with others known and unknown, conspired to sell dozens of fake works of art. The fake works of art were created by the Painter in Queens, New York, at the specific request of CC-1.” The indictment also states that Rosales and Diaz “conspired to launder the proceeds of the scheme by transferring the proceeds through foreign bank accounts,” and that, despite Rosales and Diaz taking in more than $14 million from two Manhattan galleries in the scheme, “the Painter” was paid a total of just over $50,000.
The U.S. Attorney’s confirmation of a known forger cements what had already been indicated by forensic testing by respected expert James Martin of Orion Analytical. Martin found in all of the related cases, albeit with some variation, “inconsistencies” between the supposed dates the paintings were created and the materials used to create them.
In a discussion between Judge Failla and Hernandez about assets owned by Rosales that could be subject to forfeiture since they are paintings “purchased with the proceeds from the fraud alleged,” the judge asked Hernandez about the particular works of art. To which Hernandez emphasized “not the fake works.” Said Judge Failla: “I was going to call them ‘decorative’ works rather than ‘fakes’,” but okay.”
Surely the buyers of these works, many of whom have filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against Rosales, the now-shuttered Knoedler gallery, and Julian Weissman Fine Art, would disagree with the “decorative” designation.
The mystery Queens-based master forger who was recently revealed to have been the author of most if not all of the fake Abstract Expressionist artworks that Glafira Rosales sold has been identified as the Chinese painter Pei-Shen Qian. The struggling immigrant artist created works in the style of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, and others out of his home studio and garage in the Woodhaven neighborhood in Queens, where he still lives, the New York Times reports.
Rosales’s boyfriend and colleague Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz met Qian in the early 1990s when he was selling his own art on the street in Lower Manhattan. For 15 years, beginning in the mid-90s, the struggling artist made at least 63 paintings and drawings in the style of blue chip Ab Ex artists that Rosales then sold through the Upper East Side’s Knoedler & Company gallery and its one-time employee, the dealer Julian Weissman. Sales of the fakes generated some $80 million, though he was paid a few thousand dollars for each.
Qian arrived in New York in 1981, and though he had been and continues to be a well-known and successful artist in China — he is represented by a Beijing gallery and spends about half the year in his home country — he struggled to gain recognition in the U.S. His friend Zhang Hongtu, a
successful Chinese Pop artist based in New York who studied with him at the Art Students League in the 1980s, was surprised to learn that Qian was the artist behind the fake Abstract Expressionist works, particularly given his personal style — Impressionist-style interiors and landscapes in light, colorful hues.
“I didn’t know he had this kind of a good technique,” Zhang told the Times. “He had some talent, but I don’t believe he can paint in the same style as a Jackson Pollock; it’s not easy to copy this kind of style.”
It remains unclear how much Qian knew about the use his imitation paintings were being put to, and no charges have been brought against him, though FBI agents did search his home last week. Qian and his wife, however, have been in China for the past several months.
November 2013 Update from Art News
“Art forgery has been a hot topic lately since the disclosure that Pei-Shen Qian, a 73-year-old immigrant from China, working out of his home in Queens, reportedly created at least 63 drawings and paintings by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, and Richard Diebenkorn.
The works were sold or consigned by Glafira Rosales, a dealer of Sands Point, New York, to two Manhattan dealers, Knoedler & Company, which closed in 2011, and Julian Weissman. Over a period of 15 years, the works were sold to collectors for about $80 million. Knoedler, its former president Ann Freedman, and Weissman have consistently stated that they were convinced that the works were authentic. Freedman says she showed the paintings to a number of experts, who confirmed the authenticity and quality of the works.
The case against Rosales is known as United States of America v. Glafira Rosales, a/k/a “Glafira Gonzalez,” a/k/a “Glafira Rosales Rojas,” defendant. She pleaded guilty in September to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. As we went to press, no one else had been charged in the case, but Assistant United States Attorney Jason P. Hernandez indicated that additional arrests were contemplated.
Qian is said to be back in China, where he exhibited his own paintings in May at the Xiang Jiang Gallery in Shanghai. He has also had shows at the BB Gallery in Beijing. Qian came to the United States in the 1980s and studied at the Art Students League in New York. According to the website of the Shanghai gallery, one of his teachers was Richard Pousette-Dart.
Zhang Hongtu, a prominent Chinese artist who lives in Queens, told me, “I couldn’t believe he would do this to fool the art market. I met him in 1982 and last saw him about 20 years ago. He was a very nice, honest person. He never painted in the abstract style. He did Impressionist-type paintings. He liked Bonnard very much.
“One day he went to the Museum of Modern Art with a friend of mine and saw Monet’s Water Lilies. My friend told me that Qian loved it and knelt down on the floor. I saw some of his paintings from the May show on the gallery’s website. They were figurative, with bold colors. In one of them he reinterpreted the Mona Lisa.” The gallery’s website states that Qian has “over twenty-seven” paintings that “spoof” the Mona Lisa.”