The Wall Street Journal ran a brief excerpt yesterday of the book Provenance about the art fraud that included the clever act of placing false documents in the Tate archives to validate forgeries. John Drewe was a con man who was at the center of the fraud:
Like most other museums, the Tate was a privileged community run by a small army of art experts and archivists. Since 1988 it had been led with quiet imperiousness by Serota, who had taken over at a time when new funding was a priority. Along with every other British cultural institution under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s free-market policies, the museum had been forced to compete for sponsors, and while it still received government grants, these hardly covered the major purchases and expansions Serota planned. He was dedicated to reinvigorating an institution that the Guardian newspaper once described as stuffy and uninspired, “a bastion of sluggishness.”
An economist as well as an art historian, Serota was not shy about forming ties with corporations, wealthy new patrons, and private collectors. To float a single Cézanne exhibition, his accountants scheduled more than forty champagne receptions. Later Serota would inaugurate the Unilever Series, the Tate’s first brand-marketing collaboration with a company, and museum patrons visiting the restrooms would find the cubicles “adorned with a discreet notice—similar to those underneath some of its most famous paintings—thanking an anonymous benefactor for donating the wherewithal to keep them in toilet rolls,” as the Guardian reported.
The director did not have much choice. The art market was booming, and the Tate and many other art institutions were being priced out of the business. To keep the museum’s goals and galleries afloat, its directors and trustees were forced to tango with any number of prospective donors.
John Drewe was the perfect dance partner. He had been cultivating his relationship with the Tate for weeks, organizing lunches at the restaurant at Claridge’s Hotel for curators and senior staffers, including Fox-Pitt. If Serota embodied a new, less class-conscious Britain (he was known to wash his staff’s teacups after meetings), Fox-Pitt was Old World. A slim and sophisticated aristocrat in her late forties, she had worked at the Tate as a curator and archivist for more than a decade and had carved out her own fiefdom. Her archives had become an important part of the museum, and she was always looking for ways to expand. She had a reputation as a fearsome gatekeeper with X-ray vision that allowed her to peer into the heart of anyone she suspected of harboring anything less than the most altruistic motives toward the Tate. One luckless acquaintance who failed to pass muster recalled how Fox-Pitt looked through him, then past him, as if she had determined with a single glance that he was useless for her purposes.
Book Excerpt: “Provenance” (Wall Street Journal)