How an $80M Scandal Blew Up NYC's Art World

Barry Avrich chronicles a con in his new film, 'Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art'
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2020 2:00 PM CDT
She Sold $80M in Fake Paintings. Was She Guilty?
Ann Freedman, center, former director of Knoedler & Company art gallery, leaves a courthouse in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

When a prestigious gallery sells $80 million of modern art, it's a day at the office. When it's all fake, that's news—and the story behind a new documentary called Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, the CBC reports. Filmmaker Barry Avrich says he was inspired by a 2012 Vanity Fair article to sit down with Ann Freedman, the New York City art maven who sold more than 40 fake paintings over 20 years. But Freedman insists she's the victim of a quiet con artist who sold her the paintings. Avrich says he had to convince Freedman to be in the film: "She had to have a level of trust in me," he explains. "What I basically said to her was that I will ensure that the film has balance, but ultimately, the audience is going to decide."

The con duped art experts and buyers at a time when industry profits were exploding—and Freedman, who banked 10% to 15% per sale, clearly saw dollar signs. But how much she knew is anyone's guess, and Avrich says his film crew wavered during 15 hours of interviews with her. "My bottom line on her: I don't believe she went in to deceive anybody, but she should’ve known, five or six paintings in, that this was a problem," he says. "I think she's guilty of not stopping when red flags were coming up." With buyers fuming, the case ended up in court and left the Knoedler Gallery—which Freedman directed—in tatters. If you're curious and have a Canadian IP address, check it out on CBC Gem. (Meanwhile, the Vatican had the Pope's joke cut from a documentary.)

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