Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger

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9781605983608: Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger

It is said that the greatest art forger in the world is the one who has never been caught?the astonishing story of America’s most accomplished art forger.

Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.”

Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi’s confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off.

Glamorous stories of art-world scandal have always captured the public imagination. However, not since Clifford Irving’s 1969 bestselling Fake has there been a story at all like this one. Caveat Emptor is unique in that it is the first and only book by and about America’s first and only great art forger. And unlike other forgers, Perenyi produced no paper trail, no fake provenance whatsoever; he let the paintings speak for themselves. And that they did, routinely mesmerizing the experts in mere seconds.

In the tradition of Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me If You Can, and certain to be a bombshell for the major international auction houses and galleries, here is the story of America’s greatest art forger.

32 pages of color illustrations and photographs

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About the Author:

Born in 1949 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ken Perenyi is a self-taught artist who painted his first pictures during the Summer of Love in 1967, having discovered an uncanny ability to intuitively grasp the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Old Masters. A series of fateful events resulted in what was to become a thirty-year career as a professional art forger. Today he operates his own studio in Madeira Beach, Florida.

Review:

How much is “America’s first and only great art forger,” as the jacket copy describes the author, willing to reveal?  Quite a lot, it seems. Perenyi, a graduate of a New Jersey technical school and a Vietnam draft dodger, fell in with a band of artistic New Yorkers and began imitating long-gone masters such as James E. Buttersworth and Martin Johnson Heade. The trick, he learned, was the peripheral details: the materials to which the canvas was fixed, the frame, a faux-aged stain. Perenyi took his canvases to New York antiques shops and specialty galleries, told a tale about a deceased uncle with treasures in his attic, and, more often than not, sold his wares. Some of his paintings reached the upper echelons of the art world and were brokered or bought by famous auction houses.

“I never told them the paintings were for real,” Perenyi said to his lawyers in the 1990s, when he found himself at the center of an FBI investigation. “It wasn’t my fault that Christie’s, Phillips, Sotheby’s and Bonhams sold them.” The investigation abruptly ended (the book never makes clear precisely what happened, and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure,” which may explain the absence of news related to the matter). There are, of course, many morally abhorrent moments in this story but it’s hard not to like this surprisingly entertaining tale of the art world’s shady side. Perenyi is culpable, but he may have had some help from the dealers and auction houses that looked the other way to make a buck.

 

(The Smithsonian Magazine)

By his own admission, Ken Perenyi is a liar, a cheat and a thief?but to give him his due, he is also pretty brilliant. His astonishing memoir, Caveat Emptor, is by turns horrifying and hilarious. An engrossing read. (The Wall Street Journal)

As Perenyi’s exploits grow in value and range, the threat of being caught rises and the FBI draws near. (Publishers Weekly)

A fabulous tale of impossible events.  While my encounter with Ken Perenyi was fleeting, I long suspected he would claim his place in the dark arts of illustration and the fun of the chase. Enjoy the ride. (Richard Neville)

Perenyi illustrates how he became America’s top art forger….Readers will be captivated as they follow the development of this remarkable talent over a 40-year career. (Kirkus Reviews)

An extraordinary memoir is to reveal how a gifted artist managed to forge his way to riches by conning high-profile auctioneers, dealers and collectors over four decades. (The Guardian)

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