The FBI has released a warning about the forgeries unleashed into the art market by Eric Spoutz, an art dealer who sold faked lesser works by Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell. He backed up the works up with his own forged documents.
Spoutz was convicted in February. The FBI has traced 40 works that are fakes. More were sold, including through New York auction houses, causing the FBI to fear “there could be hundreds more that were sold to unsuspecting victims. ‘This is a case we’re going to be dealing with for years. Spoutz was a mill,’ McKeogh said.”
Here’s the FBI describing what Spoutz did:
Spoutz, who also owned a legitimate art gallery, understood the value of provenance. He forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys, and other documents. Some of the letters dated back decades and looked authentic, referencing real people who worked at real galleries or law firms. Spoutz also used a vintage typewriter and old paper for his documentation.
The old typewriter turned out to be the smoking gun in the case. “We could tell all of these letters had been typed on the same typewriter,” McKeogh said. The type of a letter allegedly sent from a business in the 1950s matched the type in a letter allegedly sent by a firm in a different state three decades later. Spoutz also mistakenly added a ZIP Code to the letterhead of a firm on a letter dated four years before ZIP Codes were created.
Another red flag was that many of the people referenced in the letters were dead. And some of the addresses were in the middle of an intersection, or didn’t exist at all. “All these dead ends helped prove a fraud was being committed,” McKeogh said.
When marketing his fakes, Spoutz stopped just short of saying the works were authentic. “He tried to give himself an out and said they were ‘attributed to’ an artist,” McKeogh said.
Spoutz used sellers all over the country to move his forgeries, some of them fetching more than $30,000. “He looked for people that were not as familiar with a particular artist. Spoutz came across as very scholarly and knowledgeable,” McKeogh said.