Tags: Forger | Landis | Art | Punishment

Forger Mark Landis Duped the Art World, Received No Punishment

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Monday, 29 Sep 2014 10:31 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Infamous art forger Mark Landis committed fraud to gain attention, notoriety, and to be treated as someone important. In a warped way, he thought he would honor his parents’ memories by donating counterfeits in their names to museums. Disrespecting those who ran the art world, he easily convinced greedy curators to disregard logic and ethics and bend over backwards to receive something for nothing.
 
As an adept con artist and accomplished impostor who wore many hats, Landis usually paraded as Jesuit priest Father Arthur Scott and by so doing, he quickly gained the trust and confidence of art insiders before duping them with forged paintings he created.
 
Although it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for appalling behavior, Landis is diagnosed as a schizophrenic with many behavioral disorders. Recently he has been described as a bipolar manic-depressive, but he can distinguish between what is right and wrong and for decades he purposely misrepresented himself and art he donated to museums, so curators would dote over him.
 
His father was a U.S. naval officer who worked for NATO, thus the family moved to many locations throughout Europe and as a boy Landis studied art in museums. His first forgeries were stamp cancellations for friends in Brussels but he soon was forging drawings and oil paintings by Cassatt, Picasso, Valtat, Watteau, Avery, Laurencin, Shinn, Daumier, and even Walt Disney, and faked Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock letters.
 
Landis was 17 when his father died. Disgruntled that his father had been bypassed for admiral, and not wanting a common headstone to be the only remembrance that saluted his life, Landis decided to gift a Maynard Dixon forgery in his memory to a museum. This began what Landis calls his “hobby” or “addiction to philanthropy” that helped elevate his delusions of grandeur.
 
Giving the finger to the art world, Landis claims he is not an artist, but his painting replicas were what tricked many so-called “savvy” curators. Landis did study painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and in San Francisco. He went broke after being an art dealer in California and New Orleans, where he bought, sold, restored, and altered drawings and comic book illustrations.
 
Although Landis tries to convince people that he did nothing wrong, he lied about who he was; made up provenances for paintings; claimed he had inherited many of the canvases he painted; faked auction labels and receipts; and continuously misrepresented facts to those in the art world. His well-thought-out hoaxes swindled a lot of people over the last few decades.
 
Because Landis did not charge anyone for a painting and did not declare the art he gifted for tax deductions, the FBI claims “there was no victim,” and concludes no crime was committed. I disagree.
 
Landis’ deception victimized museum curators — many of whom rightfully lost credibility by accepting as real his forgeries. He also victimized those who thought they were looking at authentic art in museums; those in the future who buy one of his fakes because they haven’t been identified as counterfeits; and he tainted the legacy of legitimate artists by adding lesser quality forgeries to their body of work.
 
Like the con artist he is, Landis has claimed many times, “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong or illegal,” but if that is true, why did he dress as a priest, listen to people’s problems, and give advice as a priest might, and flaunt himself as a Jesuit? Why did he continuously move around the country changing his identity and address and hiding for months at a time? Why did he tell people he inherited the art he faked? I’ll tell you why: He knew what he was doing was wrong!
 
In a perverse way, Landis faked art and donated it to institutions, colleges, and museums so that he would be given the respect and adoration he felt he deserved. He wanted status and to socialize with important art insiders, be taken out to dinner and be treated like someone of wealth and means.

He enjoyed tricking art experts, who were more interested in obtaining free works of art than checking provenances and scrutinizing gifted paintings. Curators were so mesmerized by Landis’ presence that they didn’t identify some forgeries that were painted over digital images! He made fools of them all.
 
Most embarrassing to the art world is the fact that Landis made up to six copies of certain paintings and gave them to six different museums, but it took almost 20 years for curators to discover that fact. They didn’t do their homework and automatically accepted faux data and forgeries as believable and real.
 
That crass mentality has run rampant in the art community for decades. Curators too often accept forgeries into their inventories to please donors, dealers, and sellers. Most experts suspect that over 75 percent of museums have hundreds of fakes and they do not realize it because they are irresponsible, look the other way, are too lazy to scrutinize what they exhibit, or they don’t care.
 
Although museum registrar Matthew Leininger from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art uncovered Landis’ fakes and spent years exposing his deceitful behavior to the art world, Leininger helped glorify the idiocy of curators and the cleverness of Landis by helping to organize the April 2012 exhibition “Faux Real,” which displayed Landis’ fakes at the University of Cincinnati. Leininger even applauded the forger for attending the exhibition on opening night!
 
Even worse, Landis received celebrity status at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival with the premiere of the documentary Art & Craft that tells the sordid story of how Landis duped over 46 museums in 20 states with over 100 forgeries.
 
Hanging exhibitions of forgeries and filming documentaries about a counterfeiting con artist who walked away without punishment sends the wrong message to the art world and the public at large. Most likely, many Landis fakes have not been identified and one can easily surmise those paintings will continue to be viewed at museums or eventually be sold as genuine works of art, and more people will be duped by a man who claims he did nothing wrong or illegal.
 
Fraud is fraud, no matter how you candy coat it. Laws should be changed so that any person who creates forgeries and misrepresents them in any way can and will be indicted.
 
Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.
 
 
 
 

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Infamous art forger Mark Landis committed fraud to gain attention, notoriety, and to be treated as someone important.
Forger, Landis, Art, Punishment
1137
2014-31-29
Monday, 29 Sep 2014 10:31 AM
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