Years ago after a particularly grueling move to a new apartment, I uttered the words: "I'm never buying anything again."
That magic phrase. Because the very next day I stumbled on a beautiful lithograph — a gallery poster for a Joan Miro show. I gave the shop owner $10 for it, and he seemed relieved to see it gone.
I was curious about the poster's origins and did a little investigating. The story just makes me love the it even more: The poster advertises a show at the Gabos Art Center in University Heights, Ohio, in the summer of 1974.
Cornell Gabos sold fakes. Thousands of them, he would later admit, scamming millions from his victims. He operated for about 20 years, beginning in the 1970s, and later fled to Europe when federal authorities began closing in. He spent two years avoiding charges as the Federal Trade Commission won a $2.3 million judgement against him.
But apparently he spent it all while on the run, and this great Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story describes a flashy and high-profile lifestyle while avoiding authorities.
Ultimately he returned to the United States where he was recognized, reported and arrested. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and directed to repay $1.5 million to victims — though just where that money would come from remained unclear.
Here's another piece of great reporting by Bill Heltzel. I wonder if Heltzel will be surprised to find his work on the Gabos story is still finding readers almost two decades later. Oh, internet ...
I re-framed the poster, which of course cost way more than the $10 I spent. It's not particularly valuable (despite one online auction that's pretty optimistic), but what a great story. I mean ... unless you're one of the thousands who were scammed by Gabos.
Forged prints are a problem — sometimes the signature is fake but the art is authentic; other times the entire work is not by the artist; sometimes the signature is real but it was signed before the print was made ... "fake" can mean a lot of different things, and I'm fairly sure there's at least one forged signature hanging on my walls.
I'm not sure what you'd call the Gabos poster: It's real, now that we know he was a fake? It reminds me just a little of "F For Fake," the tale of a professional forger and Orson Wells' final film.
And the painting of the peasant girl (in the top photo) is available for sale: $1.2 million. It's an authentic ....