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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Warhol fakes become national news

The local story on missing person Ana Walshe of Cohasset, Massachusetts became national news shortly after the mother of three went missing on New Year’s Day. The missing woman’s husband, art dealer Brian Walshe, is currently being held on a $500,000 bail for misleading a police investigation on the whereabouts of his wife. However, this is not the first time Mr. Walshe has faced a judge.

Walshe admitted to selling fake Andy Warhol paintings, according to the U.S. Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office.

“We do not have a sentencing date as of yet,” Walshe’s defense attorney Tracy Miner confirmed to The Daily Beast. The art dealer, who has been dubbed a ‘con-man,’ awaited sentencing in home-confinement after he pleaded guilty to the federal art fraud allegations before Ana went missing.

Art law expert and attorney Daniel Weiner shared in a phone interview that art fraudsters can get away with selling fakes because a multitude of transactions in the world of fine art are simply based on nothing more than a “handshake and an invoice”—a lack of red-tape that Walshe likely sought to take advantage of.

He suggested that even the wealthiest of amateur art buyers can be hesitant to request additional information from art dealers in large art transactions. This is because “they are stepping into an exclusive world,” and are thus inclined not to overstep boundaries while seeking acceptance from key players in this unfamiliar—and largely unregulated—territory.

“The more art is worth, the more fake art will be in the market,” Weiner said. In Walshe’s case, though, this was not the buyer’s first rodeo. The cheated buyers hailed from the West Hollywood-based Revolver Gallery which specializes in curating works by Warhol.

Back in 2016, gallery buyers were led to believe, from photos within Brian Walshe’s listing, that a pair of Warhol paintings were two of 102 canvases that collectively amounted to Warhol’s expansive and incredibly abstract “Shadows” series from 1978.

Walshe, with assistance from wife Ana, initially asked $100,000 for the pieces by posting them for sale on eBay. Walshe’s item description of the eBay post stated that the seller allegedly had grossly overpaid for the paintings at a 2007 art auction called “Christie’s” for $240,000, ARTnews reported.

The reason for the vastly discounted asking price on the web was, “It is much cheaper and because Christie’s won’t be able to auction our pieces till May 2017,” Walshe wrote. Art auctioneers typically collect anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent of the “hammer price,” according to Artprice.com.

The eBay listing also misled inquirers by saying that the paintings were backed by verification of official registration from the Warhol Foundation.

When pressed for comment on Walshe’s selling and subsequent guilty plea of peddling the fake work, Warhol Foundation Communications Director, Jeffrey Walkowiak, said, “The Warhol Foundation does not offer opinions on works of art purported to be by Andy Warhol nor do we comment on issues of authenticity.”

Eventually, two staff members from the L.A. Revolver Gallery flew into Boston and bought the two fakes that the Cohasset couple posted for a negotiated price of $80,000.

Following the completion of the transaction, the West Coast Warhol specialists noticed numerous notable differences between the works Walshe had given the gallery and the authentic originals that were advertised on the eBay listing, ARTnews continued.

Representatives from the Revolver Gallery reported the transaction to the FBI after weeks of scattered contact with Walshe in the interest of seeking a full refund. Walshe was reportedly unresponsive and allusive—although he did send a fraction of the money owed back to the gallery.

FBI investigators concluded that at one point the embattled art dealer was indeed in possession of two original, legit portions of Warhol’s “Shadows” series. Walsh reportedly stole from a South Korean man he met at Carnegie Mellon under the guise of offering to help sell them on his behalf.

Instead, Walshe took photos of the originals and included them in the eBay post only to bait and switch bidders at the Revolver Gallery that were most likely lured in by Walshe’s considerably below market asking price.

UMass Boston Art History Professor Carol Scollans explained in an email interview why canvas sections from the “Shadows” series specifically warrant six-figure price tags, and also provided insight on Andy Warhol’s legacy as an artist more broadly.

Professor Scollans called Warhol’s “Shadows” one of the “most experimental and conceptual bodies of work he produced.” For visual context, the series in its entirety is a “complete installation of approximately 100 plus, large format, repetitive images made up of combined photographs, painting and graphic arts of a single object—I think it was a photo of pant legs,” Scollans explained.

Given the abstract nature of this collection and its ‘nonrepresentational aspects,’ “Shadows” is an example of a “seismic shift in Warhol’s oeuvre” that challenges the viewer with the following metaphorical question: Do you know what you are looking at?

Scollans clarified that the “Shadows” series must be viewed as a joined collective to adequately “instill meaning” as a reminder that the individual pieces of the greater work were not crafted to stand alone. “A collector purchasing two or three images belies the concept the artist had intended,” Scollans said.

Regarding the high market value of the said series, Scollans said it can more so be attributed to “owning a work of genius rather than a substantive analysis of an artist’s concept.”

The professor went on to call Warhol one of the most “famous” and “iconic” artists of the 20th century whose legacy lingers today. In other words, the late Andy Warhol continues to have “star power,” so to speak, for an array of reasons—one being Warhol’s intertwining of artistic creativity and marketing—making the latter much less mundane.

 “Not only was he a catalyst for blurring the distinctions between advertising—low art—and high art—museum works—but more importantly raised the issue of authenticity and creation in his appropriated works like the Campbell soup cans and Brillo boxes,” Scollans outlined.

Stylistically speaking, “Shadows” is a marker of Warhol’s departure from the American artist’s colorful depictions of everyday items and bright portraits of popular figures from Marilyn Monroe to Mao Zedong with pop art—an artistic movement that Warhol was famous for developing which dated back to the early ’60s.

It isn’t the legitimacy of the artwork that is in question any longer, but rather the legitimacy of Mr. Walshe’s testimony, as the search for his wife Ana continues. Since Ana went missing on New Year’s Day, a damning series of developments have led many to grow suspicious that Walshe murdered his wife.

For one, the home Ana and Brian formerly shared with their three young children, until moving, recently went ablaze shortly after Ana’s disappearance made headlines. The cause of the fire was deemed accidental by investigators, CBS reported.

Following a police search of the Walshe’s home, prosecutors announced that a bloody knife and blood remanence were found in the basement of the Cohasset home the couple rented, WCVB reported.

Further, Walshe was captured on video surveillance sporting a blue face mask and wearing surgical gloves, purchasing roughly $450 worth of cleaning supplies paid in cash at a nearby Home Depot. He also allegedly googled how to dispose of a 115 pound body.

Here in the United States, the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The focus of this feature is a crime Walshe already admitted to: selling fake art. You can see “Shadows” on full display at the Dia Beacon art museum in New York.