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Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger Hardcover – August 15, 2012
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How much is “America’s first and only great art forger,” as the jacket copy describes the author, willing to reveal? Quite a lot, it seems. Perenyi, a graduate of a New Jersey technical school and a Vietnam draft dodger, fell in with a band of artistic New Yorkers and began imitating long-gone masters such as James E. Buttersworth and Martin Johnson Heade. The trick, he learned, was the peripheral details: the materials to which the canvas was fixed, the frame, a faux-aged stain. Perenyi took his canvases to New York antiques shops and specialty galleries, told a tale about a deceased uncle with treasures in his attic, and, more often than not, sold his wares. Some of his paintings reached the upper echelons of the art world and were brokered or bought by famous auction houses.
“I never told them the paintings were for real,” Perenyi said to his lawyers in the 1990s, when he found himself at the center of an FBI investigation. “It wasn’t my fault that Christie’s, Phillips, Sotheby’s and Bonhams sold them.” The investigation abruptly ended (the book never makes clear precisely what happened, and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure,” which may explain the absence of news related to the matter). There are, of course, many morally abhorrent moments in this story but it’s hard not to like this surprisingly entertaining tale of the art world’s shady side. Perenyi is culpable, but he may have had some help from the dealers and auction houses that looked the other way to make a buck.
(The Smithsonian Magazine)
By his own admission, Ken Perenyi is a liar, a cheat and a thief―but to give him his due, he is also pretty brilliant. His astonishing memoir, Caveat Emptor, is by turns horrifying and hilarious. An engrossing read. (The Wall Street Journal)
As Perenyi’s exploits grow in value and range, the threat of being caught rises and the FBI draws near. (Publishers Weekly)
A fabulous tale of impossible events. While my encounter with Ken Perenyi was fleeting, I long suspected he would claim his place in the dark arts of illustration and the fun of the chase. Enjoy the ride. (Richard Neville)
Perenyi illustrates how he became America’s top art forger….Readers will be captivated as they follow the development of this remarkable talent over a 40-year career. (Kirkus Reviews)
An extraordinary memoir is to reveal how a gifted artist managed to forge his way to riches by conning high-profile auctioneers, dealers and collectors over four decades. (The Guardian)
About the Author
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Top Customer Reviews
In this readable but somehow elusive memoir, we learn of Perenyi's astonishing career as a forger and many of the secrets of his trade -- but we learn little to nothing of Perenyi himself. It's interesting the way he manages to reveal so much and so little at the same time.
Unlike Han van Meegeren, possibly the world's most famous art swindler who created fake Vermeers and sold them for vast sums, Perenyi was usually content to create new works by second-rank British and American artists of the 18th and 19th centuries and sell them for a few thousand dollars.
He managed to educate himself on the exact techniques of producing cracks in the paint on different surfaces, on the correct varnish, the right canvas, the antique picture frames of which he became a connoisseur, even the tiny fly droppings that accumulate on the surface of old works of art. All this knowledge he generously shares with us.
Perenyi began by specializing in nautical scenes, still lifes, American portraits and then branched out into English sporting scenes of jockeys and hounds. His biggest score was a painting auctioned for more than $700,000 by an American artists called Martin Johnson Heade of passionflowers.
All this detail is quite interesting -- but Perenyi remains an enigma. He tells us he develops a love of good food, fine wine, expensive clothes and becomes a kind of quasi English gentleman with an establishment in Bath and another in London. He is a hard worker and a hard spender.Read more ›
Caveat Emptor reads like a novel, starring a cast of characters that Donald E. Westlake would have loved: wise guy New Yorkers, crooked auction house dealers, leather clad enforcers, and even the legendary--or notorious, depending on your point of view--Roy Cohn. A longtime pal makes a habit of boosting not fancy cars but station wagons: they make hauling late-night loot easier. And then there's the artsy-fartsy Soho crowd: Perenyi glides smoothly between them all. There is as much life in the fast lane as art forgery here, but that's part of the charm, at least once the rather tiresome sixties are over with.
But it's the art forgery that were really here for, and Perenyi is happy to divulge his secrets: the statute of limitations has run out, and the FBI never got the goods on him. He started producing fakes just to see if he could, and then it became his living. He spills all the details: finding old canvases or boards to repaint, and appropriately aged wood panels (drawer bottoms from antique furniture are a good source), intently studying the styles of the original painters.Read more ›
Caveat Emptor was a page turner from beginning to end. Perenyi is far from the pretentious art aficionado I had originally pegged him for, in fact his wit, sometimes faltering self esteem (especially growing of age in the 60's and trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life) and at times self-deprecating personality gives Perenyi a very human side. The goings on in Perenyi's apartment building in NYC, then called the "The Ferguson Club", was not only hilarious, some of the characters could have all been straight out of the classic Pulitzer awarded "Confederacy of Dunces". I was so taken by the building and it's tenants I had to go and stand in front of the actual building the last time I found myself in Manhattan!
There's a part of the story when one of the forgeries is going to be cleaned by Sotheby's auction house--which puts you in the room with Perenyi and leaves you with sweaty, clammy palms. Although I didn't want the story to end, I was glad that moved so beautifully and so quickly. I would much rather be left wanting more, than to have to read too much. Well done!!!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
For anyone interested in the world of art, this is a fascinating read. It makes you doubt everything you see in "so-called" reputable galleries.Published 1 month ago by Jay
There are some who claim art fraud is the field of those who want to make money. Perenyi shows us a different side of deception - The face of a man who has an overwhelming ego. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Peter J. Hughes
Wonderful, fun, and engaging book. It is a first person account that reads as a chatty and nonjudgmental indictment of the art business. Read morePublished 3 months ago by E. Thomas
Fascinating book!! Highly recommend it. Perhaps should be titled "Living on the Edge"Published 3 months ago by H. Stephen Miller
If you want breathless bragging about a guy who claims to have slept with super models and hung out with mafiosos while painting fakes, you'll like it. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Jerry Mac
Being smart can make crime pay; a well told story of life in the not so slow lane, but interesting twists and turns; a canvass to enrich the time it takes to read it.Published 4 months ago by Malcolm Griffiths