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Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art Hardcover – July 9, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A decade-long art scam that sullied the integrity of museum archives and experts alike is elegantly recounted by husband-and-wife journalists Salisbury and Sujo. In 1986, when struggling painter and single father John Myatt advertised copies of famous paintings, he never imagined he'd become a key player in one of Britain's biggest art frauds. Myatt soon met John Drewe, who claimed to be a physicist and avid art collector. Soon Drewe, a silver-tongued con man, was passing off Myatt's work as genuine, including paintings in the style of artists like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. When buyers expressed concern about the works' provenance, Drewe began the painstaking process of falsifying records of ownership. Posing as a benefactor, Drewe even planted false documents in the archives of London's Tate Gallery, but suspicious historians and archivists eventually assisted Scotland Yard in bringing him to justice. Salisbury and Sujo (who died in 2008) evoke with flair the plush art world and its penetration by the seductive Drewe as well as the other players in this fascinating art drama. (July 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo are a husband-and- wife team of investigative reporters. Salisbury is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and has worked for Reuters and the Associated Press. She is the coauthor of the critically acclaimed The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, which was translated into eleven languages. Sujo grew up in the art world and has been a journalist for the past twenty years, covering arts and entertainment for Reuters, the Associated Press, and The New York Daily News.
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John Drewe, the central figure around whom the story of this book is built, is a uniquely clever and industrious con-man. As the title suggests, his complex swindle involved creating a bogus provenance for the fraudulent works he had commissioned. He insinuated himself into museum archives where he secretly inserted the forged documentation. It was a scheme that fooled much of the art establishment for years. Worse, he so debased the archives that they could never be entirely relied upon again.
Provenance is a real life thriller and detective yarn, a factual account of a singular and elaborate scam. It provides a knowledgeable glimpse into the shady machinations, the greed and dangers of a secretive art world in which huge amounts of money change hands daily. It also delves into the strange world of John Drewe, a highly intelligent, inventive, but totally corrupt figure, a sociopath and pathological liar whose life is driven by falsehoods and fantasy.
Provenance is a smoothly written and well researched book, a true account of remarkable events, one that is both instructive and pleasurable to read.
Years of research were required to effectively present the deeds or misdeeds of John Drewe who seem to become the characters he pretended to be - a physicist, an heir to a remarkable art collection, a Mossad agent, a consultant to the British Atomic Energy Commission and the list goes on. All the while cleverly documenting and selling "modern masterpieces" to the leading dealers in London and elsewhere.
John Myatt - failed painter is swept into this whirlwind of activity and doing a reasonably good job of creating masterpieces by Ben Nicholson, Roger Bissiere, Braques and Giacometti, Graham Sutherland et al.
Drewe prepared an "authentic" provenance for each work and then used "runners" to present and sell them to the likes of Leslie Waddington, Daniel Stern, Peter Nahum among many others. Upwards of 200 works were made and sold.
Drewe parlayed each meeting and relationship into a probable sale.
Eventually he was caught and convicted but it took hard work, chance and luck to bring him down. He was never repentant and was also not out to embarrass the art world. Rather his success was aided by the lax standards where greed is involved.
Although it is a tale related to the modern art world it seems more a story of the disintegration of moral and ethical standards in our world. The authors simply and clearly describe the facts and the events but the take away for me seems much more tragic and universal.
Most recent customer reviews
Although I had heard this was non-fiction, I was compelled in the middle of reading this book, to...Read more
I took no pleasure in this story.