Curtain falls on Knoedler fake art saga

After nearly a decade of litigation, the tenth and final lawsuit against the defunct Knoedler art gallery has settled.

The final claim in the prolonged art forgery saga was filed in 2013 by the Lichtenstein-based Martin Hilti Family Trust. The trust purchased a Mark Rothko painting from Knoedler in 2002 for US$5.5 million (£4.53 million). In 2011, alarm bells sounded over the authenticity of a collection of Abstract Expressionist paintings sold by Knoedler to unsuspecting buyers. When the trust submitted samples of paint from its Rothko for forensic testing the results confirmed their worst fears: the oil painting was counterfeit.

The long list of defendants to the trust’s claim included the Knoedler Gallery, its former president, Ann Freedman, gallery owner Michael Hammer, Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales from whom Knoedler purchased the fake works and her former partner, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who hired Chinese painter, Pei-Shen Qian, to forge the artworks at Qian’s home in Queens.

The Knoedler Gallery was founded in 1846 and suddenly and permanently shut shop in 2011 when the art forgery scandal first broke. The gallery has faced a barrage of lawsuits for knowingly selling tens of millions of dollars-worth of counterfeit art attributed to Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning to buyers including collector John Howard, former Gucci executive and Sotheby’s board member, Domenico de Sole and casino magnate Frank Fertitta.

The judge presiding over the Hilti trust’s claim, Paul Gardephe, issued an order of dismissal in mid-July 2019 stating that “all claims herein have been settled” and the trust’s case was dismissed “with prejudice”.

At that time, only Knoedler, Hammer and his related company 8-31 Holdings remained as defendants. Bergantiños Diaz had fled to Spain and avoided extradition, Qian to China and Freedman had settled. A New York Judge had ordered Rosales to pay victims of the fraud scheme US$81 million (£66.78 million) in 2017. According to Artforum, Hammer and 8-31 Holdings settled for an undisclosed sum in early August.

Judge Gardephe also held that if the settlement was not consummated within 45 days of his order, either party could apply for “restoration of the action”.

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