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Provenance: how a con man and a forger…
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Provenance: how a con man and a forger rewrote the history of modern art (2009)

by Laney Salisbury, Aly Sujo

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
A great story averagely told. A small thing - this is written by American authors about things set in Britain, so the usage of 'fall' for autumn and 'gas' for petrol, etc., struck me as completely out of place. ( )
  devilish2 | Sep 5, 2016 |
I don't read very much non-fiction in book format; though I do read a bunch of magazines. I read something about this book (an excerpt?) in one of said magazines, and it intrigued me enough to get the book.
Having worked in a museum archive, I was fascinated by this true story of how this art-forgery-fraud duo used falsification of archives in order to pass off their fakes as the genuine article - complete with historical documentation, to be found in multiple, respected repositories. The truly amazing part was how truly crappy some of their work was, and how long no one noticed it for. It really makes you wonder - if someone bothered to do a less shoddy job; would they ever be caught? Have people done so? The estimates some interviewees give on what percentage of the art market is false or misattributed merchandise is shocking.
So - interesting book, mainly because of the content. Like so much non-fiction, though, the prose is unexceptional. It simply gets the job done. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Very quick read, an engaging narrative that's more about the forgery of archives than of art itself. A skilled con man dupes a struggling artist into becoming a forger. In an interesting aftermath, the con man has just gone back to jail for defrauding the elderly, while the struggling artist, after a year's sentence reduced to four months, is now widely sought after for his skilled copies. ( )
  steve.lane | Nov 28, 2015 |
From the book cover: “Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist John Myatt.”

One always expects the cover description to be complimentary to the book. All too often, however, it is similar to a movie trailer that highlights the only the very best part of the whole story. Not the case with Provenance. This book truly does read like a thriller. It is indeed fast paced. The authors certainly did their research and managed to wrangle the very, very convoluted escapades of John Drewe into a readable (and quite exciting) look into the world of art and art forgery. I have been reading a fair bit of non-fiction lately and Provenance is the most “current” of the books I have read. It certainly makes for interesting reading when the authors were able to interview the people involved (because they were still alive) and know that the information was reasonably fresh in their recollections.

“Frequently there is a tender complicity between faker and victim: I want you to believe that such and such is the case, says the faker; if you want to believe it, too, and in order to cement that belief, you, for your part, will give me a great deal of money, and I, for my part, will laugh behind your back. The deal is done.” – from a letter by Julian Barnes, June 11, 1990.

The above quote pretty much sums up how cons like the one perpetuated by John Drewe can go on as long as it did. Yes, the talent of the “con man” makes it happen but the complicity of the those wanting to believe in his story allow it to go on for such a very long time. While reading this book the “what if” question was constantly in the back of my mind …

What if …. John Drewe had turned his considerable talents to a legitimate enterprise? What if … John Myatt used his considerable talents not for forgery but for original art? What if … John Drewe’s marriage had not hit the rocks and his wife not become angry enough to go to the police with her suspicions?

Definitely the art world would have been turned inside out even more, but we also would have been left without a wonderful telling of the caper. I enjoyed this book a great deal.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist John Myatt. Together they exploited the archives of British art institutions to irrevocably legitimize the hundreds of pieces they forged, many of which are still considered genuine and hang in prominent museums and private collections today. ( )
  cjordan916 | May 30, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
If you've ever been had by a con man, as I once was at a cash machine in Salem, Mass., you know the odd aftermath of emotion. First, you're befuddled, then enraged and finally consumed by visions of revenge. But there's another sentiment that can sneak up on you. I was reminded of it while reading Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo's well-crafted tale of British con artist John Drewe. I'd expected to despise the psychopath at the center of what Scotland Yard called the biggest art fraud of the 20th century. But somehow, from the first page, he got me to drop my guard. Drewe, for all his odious ambitions, is ingenious, persuasive, even brilliant. As I was pulled deeper into his deceptions, I couldn't help admiring this creep. Likewise, I understood how I came away from that cash machine years ago envious of a guy who could put together a wildly complicated fiction that was credible enough to squeeze $20 out of me.

In "Provenance," Salisbury and Sujo untangle Drewe's elaborate scheme that put more than 200 counterfeit works on the market between 1986 and 1995. What's fascinating about his story is his inventiveness in faking the paintings' provenances. Drewe ginned up receipts for prior purchases; he created catalogs for exhibitions that never took place; he even fabricated records for restoration work that the supposedly decades-old paintings had required over the years. In a master stroke, he smooth-talked his way into the archives of the Tate Gallery, where he inserted some of his phony documents into the files. Experts rummaging about in the archives to certify a work's authenticity would find much to lead them astray. . . .

 

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Laney Salisburyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sujo, Alymain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
It's called a confidence games. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine. David Mamet House of Games
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For Aly Sujo, with love. Aug. 26-1949-Oct. 4, 2008
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One sunny April afternoon in 1990 two Englishmen strode up the steps of London's Tate Gallery, passed beneath the imposing statues atop the pedimenta - Brittania, the lion, and the unicorn - and made their way through the grand portico into one of the world's greatest museums.
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Book description
Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliantly recount the tale of a great con man and unforgettable villain, John Drewe, and his sometimes unwitting accomplices.

Chief among those was the struggling artist John Myatt, a vulnerable single father who was manipulated by Drewe into becoming a prolific art forger. Once Myatt had painted the pieces, the real fraud began. Drewe managed to infiltrate the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world in order to fake the provenance of Myatt's forged pieces, hoping to irrevocably legitimize the fakes while effectively rewriting art history.

The story stretches from London to Paris to New York, from tony Manhattan art galleries to the esteemed Giacometti and Dubuffet associations, to the archives at the Tate Gallery. This enormous swindle resulted in the introduction of at least two hundred forged paintings, some of them breathtakingly good and most of them selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of these fakes are still out in the world, considered genuine and hung prominently in private houses, large galleries, and prestigious museums. And the sacred archives, undermined by John Drewe, remain tainted to this day.
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Recounts the activities of John Drewe, who manipulated struggling artist John Myatt and other unwitting accomplices to become prolific art forgers whose works Drewe successfully passed off as legitimate pieces.

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