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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
Born in 1949 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ken Perenyi is a self-taught artist who painted his first pictures during the Summer of Love in 1967, having discovered an uncanny ability to intuitively grasp the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Old Masters. A series of fateful events resulted in what was to become a thirty-year career as a professional art forger. Today he operates his own studio in Madeira Beach, Florida.
Top customer reviews
None of this is to say there weren't striking similarities in these two larger than life characters. Both were self-taught. My grandmother felt the stretchers of every painting she bought-"If it's rough thats oak and it means it's English. If its smooth, it's pine and American. Perenyi studied much more extensively for he had to paint as if he were a nineteenth century artist. Of the two Perenyi worked harder and acquired the most thorough technical education. Being an art forger is much harder work than amassing a collection.
Perenyi is roughly my age and following a stint in what we now call an alternative school, set out to get rich by hook or crook, mostly crook. Along the way he acquired a Bentley, befriended Roy Cohn, made several small fortunes, and fooled a lot of pompous experts. Two of the experts he fooled, a Miami antiques dealer and a plastic surgeon I actually knew, and so did my grandmother. The antiques dealer having appraised the art in my mothers estate, some of which came directly from her mother. The plastic surgeon managed to prove that money doesn't increase savvy. He was repeated taken.
Local fun aside, this is a wonderfully entertaining work. I have already sent one copy to some friends of the aforementioned pigeons.
I recommend the book unreservedly.
I would like to point out that the reviews for this book are themselves very insightful... they run the gamut between people who laud the author as a genius to those who think he's a "psychopath" (though they may be confusing that with sociopath). Mr. Perenyi seems to be quite polarizing !
In addition to an insight into what the art world is about, Perenyi also shared a lively and engaging story about the drama of his life and the cast of characters that he has shared it with.
Most recent customer reviews
The art of forgery is fascinating! Loved the New York setting.