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Caveat Emptor - Book Notes

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Why am I here?

Knowledge seeking is why I am here. I was seeking out knowledge about the world of auction houses. This lead me to a Vice video on Youtube about art forgery. A guy was being interviewed. His name was Ken Perenyi and he is one of the best forgers to ever do it. Not that I want to be a forger, I'm intrigued by his story and I want to know more about how he got so good at painting, and auction houses. Maybe I can learn more about auction houses and hear some great stories in the process. So I'm reading his book titled Caveat Emptor. What did he have to go through to get where he is now?

What does Caveat Emptor mean?

  • Buyer Beware. The title is great lol

He described his school as "Bourbon Tech - nothing more than a repository for every flunky and JD in the county. The place was a mad house, with kids straight out of reformatories, and was the perfect incubator for the criminal mind. " This is significant because lots of the communities that black people are forced to grow up in, are thought of the same way. Here is a commonality.

Aubrey Beardsley - famous for his erotic drawings (look him up later)

Before SOHO (in New York) was what it is today, it was just some old warehouses. Artists found it and began to live and create there. Then came galleries, and more. What I take from that is, I've heard of this occurring before. It is not uncommon for artists to come and make an area LIT LIT. As a black artist, I have the natural ability to take something ugly and make it LIT. What old master's style do I have to recreate and make lit today? What area of my city is run down? Can I bring my vision there and turn it up? My dad said Columbus is ready. I feel the same way. We just have to do it!

Ken fake failed the draft test. I fake failed the test to get into Columbus Academy LOL. Here is a commonality.

He began recreating the masters work out of learning to paint. He just so happened to be great at it! He was learning more and more about painting, and he had found his passion. He also got high A LOT w/ Tom. He said that Acid makes you hyper aware. He could see all the pores of someones face, and the hairs on their head. He painted on LSD at the request of his rich friends.

He returned to this building (not known as Sotheby's). He returned frequently to people watch and learn how things worked in that room. I want to do this. I want to find the underground art scene near me.

Ken got into some financial hard times after he bought an old Bentley (the money pit). This led him to art forgery. So his choice to do crime was brought on by circumstances, just like us in the hood. He learned the story of Han van Meegeren, who is one of the most genius art forgers ever. Han got caught because he sold some work to some Nazis. When those Nazis got arrested, their art collections were seized and in the sale records, Han's name was in there as the seller, so it looked like he had betrayed his country and sold national treasures to the enemy, when he had really forged them. The feds didn't believe him until he painted a masterpiece in his cell. He wrote a book on how to forge. Ken read it, then devised his plan.

"A fine frame is to a masterpiece, what a Saint Laurent original is to a beautiful girl. " - Ken Perenyi

He had found a guy that came from a wood frame carving family, who supplied him with antique frames, and gave him knowledge of how the masters made their gesso (rabbit skin glue, mixed with gypsum powder and water).

"Auction houses are notoriously devious institutions, and should never be trusted. However, most auction houses do not rig bids, as some believe. They leave that to the dealers, who form buying rings(pools). There are many variations on these schemes, but basically, several dealers who have agreed not to bid against each other, conspire together before the sale, and decide who bids on what. They also agree that if the bidding dealer is successful, he pays a percentage of the hammer price into a pot, which is divided among the other members of the ring." (Paraphrased a little bit)

"ALWAYS, especially when dealing with auction houses, get it in writing." - Ken Perenyi

Conclusions that Ken drew from Christie's Conditions of Business: Limited Warranty

  1. Virtually nothing sold here is guaranteed to be what it claimed to be.

  2. The auction house nor does the seller assumed any responsibility whatsoever.

  3. If you discover that the painting you bought is a fake, you can ask for a refund.

After he learned this, he realized that it was legal to "do business" with them

What did I learn from this book?

  • This book might be a must read for an appraiser or someone who examines paintings for authenticity. It has a wealth of info about varnishes, gesso, and antique painting surfaces.

  • Many artists in history used the same subjects in many paintings. They created stencils. The composition would be switched up. Maybe that's how they created things quickly.

  • Nervous looking people in a rush, could be smugglers, according to the workers in customs. To avoid random searches, dress conservatively and be clean cut. Never look at the agents. Just blend in with the crowd

  • Dealers like to see antique paintings in their old, dusty, not cleaned state

  • Adam A Weschler & Sons Inc was founded in 1890. DC's oldest auction house.

  • My prices are too low lol

  • Soho wasn't always what it is today.

What questions do I still have?

  • What is a sales catalog and how do I get one? What are they good for?

  • Dead artists are worth lots of money. What does a living artist have to do to be worth a lot, like Damien Hirst?

  • What is the connotation behind an artist that decides to take the auction house route?

  • What makes Ken happy now? Meaning what type of paintings bring him the most enjoyment while creating.

  • Was there a time where he felt like his love for the arts was compromised?

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