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TBR News August 29, 2020

Aug 29 2020

The Voice of the White House

 

Comments for August 29, 2020:  Now the American public is learning, via Republican propaganda, that Biden is in the hands of Antifa, an evil George Soros-sponsored radical Communist entity that is equipped with Chinese tanks and flame-throwers and prepared to destroy both the kindly American police (who are only defending American liberty by assassinating Black babies in their strollers to prevent horrid arson and violence in peaceful, Christian white communities)and Loyal Americans, otherwise known as worshipful Trump supporters. And soon, once the Loyal Americans guarantee Our Beloved President (sent by God Himself to Protect and Nurture us!) we will see a magnificent coronation in the National Cathedral of King Donald I, arrayed in all his glory. And in his office in the red-walled Kremlin in Moscow, Vladimir Putin smiles.

 

The Table of Contents

 

  • How You Can Be 100% Certain That QAnon Is Bullshit
  • How William Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department to help Trump win
  • Driven to Abstraction: the inside story of a $60m art forgery hoax
  • The Anatomy of  Fraud

The Voice of the White House

Comments for August 29, 2020:  Now the American public is learning, via Republican propaganda, that Biden is in the hands of Antifa, an evil George Soros-sponsored radical Communist entity that is equipped with Chinese tanks and flame-throwers and prepared to destroy both the kindly American police (who are only defending American liberty by assassinating Black babies in their strollers to prevent horrid arson and violence in peaceful, Christian white communities)and Loyal Americans, otherwise known as worshipful Trump supporters. And soon, once the Loyal Americans guarantee Our Beloved President (sent by God Himself to Protect and Nurture us!) we will see a magnificent coronation in the National Cathedral of King Donald I, arrayed in all his glory. And in his office in the red-walled Kremlin in Moscow, Vladimir Putin smiles.

How You Can Be 100% Certain That QAnon Is Bullshit

May 27, 2020

by Caitlin Johnstone

Scoop

President Trump has yet again advanced an evil longstanding agenda of America’s depraved intelligence and defense agencies, so as usual the QAnon cult is out in force telling everyone not to worry because this is all part of the plan. Ever since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was slammed by Trump’s Justice Department with a mountain of espionage charges carrying a possible sentence of 175 years in prison, QAnon acolytes have been showing up in my social media mentions with screenshots of a new post from the mysterious 8chan anon assuring us all that Assange is actually being protected by Trump.

The post reads in the typical QAnon cryptic word salad style that its adherents often annoyingly imitate when normal people try to engage them in an adult conversation

If you’re one of those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the QAnon phenomenon, in October of 2017 odd posts began appearing on the anonymous message board 4chan, which is wildly popular with trolls, incels and racists. Those posts ceased appearing on 4chan and moved to a related site, 8chan, where they continue appearing to this day. The poster purports to have insider knowledge of a secret, silent and invisible war that President Trump has been waging against the Deep State with the help of the US military and various “white hats” within the US government, and shares snippets about this war with 8chan users in extremely vague and garbled posts.

Here are three reasons you can be absolutely, 100 percent certain that it’s bullshit:

  1. It always, always, always excuses Trump’s facilitation of evil deep state agendas.

I don’t generally use the term “deep state” anymore, mainly because its proper meaning has been distorted by right-wingers and Qultists to mean basically “Democrats and Never-Trumpers”, and by mainstream liberals to mean something like “a right-wing conspiracy theory about a secretive cabal of Jews who rule the world”. But originally the term simply referred to a concept used for political analysis to describe the undeniable fact that plutocrats and intelligence/defense agencies tend to form relationships with each other in a way that persists amid the comings and goings of the official elected government.

This alliance has certain agendas that it has consistently pushed for, many of them involving the advancement of wars which financially benefit the plutocrats and which secure geostrategic dominance for the intelligence/defence agencies. Trump has been advancing these longstanding agendas with his administration’s regime change interventionism against Iran and Venezuela, world-threatening new cold war escalations against Russia, military expansionism, continuing and expanding of all of Bushbama’s warmongering and Orwellian surveillance programs, the campaign to destroy WikiLeaks and imprison Julian Assange for life, and many other actions which benefit the agenda of global hegemony and the profit margins of war plutocrats.

Every single time Trump advances one of these depraved agendas and I speak out against it, I begin getting angry social media responses from QAnon cultists telling me to calm down and relax, that this is all part of the plan, and that Trump is actually doing the exact opposite of what he appears to be doing. And when I say “every single time”, I mean exactly that, without a single, solitary exception.

QAnon cultists do this every single time because they have been propagandized into doing so, both by the 8chan anon they follow and by the herd mentality of the community that it has fostered. They begin with the baseless premise that Trump is a righteous warrior against corruption, conclude that everything he does must therefore be a righteous maneuver against Deep State corruption, then apply their hive mind to coming up with reasons to believe this. Then they show up in my mentions telling me I’m crazy for believing Trump is doing the things that he is very plainly and obviously doing.

You don’t need to take my word for this. As of this writing right now you can go to the Twitter search bar and type in the words “Assange” and “QAnon” and you’ll get a bunch of posts explaining that Assange is “under protection”, and that imprisoning a longtime target of the CIA and the Pentagon is actually a devastating blow to the Deep State. You can continue to repeat this exact same experiment every single time Trump advances a disgusting warmongering deep state agenda, and every single time you’ll get the exact same results.

This to me is reason enough to be absolutely certain that QAnon and the credulous cult which has sprouted up around it is crap. US presidents are reliably corrupt warmongers and CIA cronies, so the current president acting like one is not surprising or extraordinary. Trying to justify a US president doing the sort of thing that all US presidents always do as a total deviation from the norm for US presidents would be a ridiculous thing to do even one time. Doing it every single time is fully discrediting.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you could maybe be excused if you mistook it for a rabbit after one quick glance, but continuing to stare directly at a duck and saying “Yeah that’s definitely a rabbit, look at the long ears” over an extended period of time would mean you’re a bullshitter.

  1. They always, always, always refuse to prove the validity of their position.

A year ago I tweeted out that I was thinking of writing an article about QAnon and asked its adherents for their very best links/screenshots proving its legitimacy. Go ahead and have a read of the kinds of responses I got by clicking this hyperlink if you’re curious. No one came remotely close to providing anything like the evidence I’d asked for, with most responses falling along the lines of “You kind of have to just immerse yourself in it over an extended period of time and marinate in it until you believe,” which is the same sort of response you’ll get if you ask a religious proselytizer to prove the legitimacy of their religion. I shared the thread again yesterday and got the same response, with one QAnon promoter with a fairly large following telling me, “No amount of evidence can be seen by one choosing to stay blind.”

This is completely different from standard conspiracy theories. If you ask a 9/11 truther to prove the legitimacy of their position, they’ll instantly be able to produce clear and concise videos and articles for you, and if they’ve actually done their homework they’ll be able to regale you with information about physics, forensics, architecture, chemistry, and plot holes in the official narrative. If you ask someone who’s got theories about the JFK assassination you’ll get a comparable amount of lucidity. Ask a QAnon cultist for the same level of intellectual transparency and you’ll get a bunch of mealy-mouthed gibberish which will quickly turn into accusations that you are lazy for refusing to do your own research if you keep pressing.

This is because there is no actual, tangible factual basis for the belief system which has sprouted up around QAnon. It begins, just like any other religion, as a premise of faith, and then the adherents to that faith pool their intellectual resources into the task of finding reasons to legitimize that premise. They begin with the premise that Trump is a good and noble savior who is uprooting the source of all of America’s problems with strategic maneuvers which are so brilliant that they look like the exact opposite of what they are, then they let confirmation bias and other cognitive biases do the rest of the work for them.

Again, you don’t need to take my word for this; you can repeat this experiment for yourself. Whenever you encounter a QAnon adherent, either by chance or by seeking them out deliberately, simply ask them to prove the legitimacy of their position. You might get links to sources which attempt to prove that QAnon is connected to the Trump administration (as though that would somehow counter the idea that it’s a pro-Trump propaganda construct), you might get links to the mountain of cryptic word salads that QAnon has posted and told to comb through them yourself, but you won’t ever get anything resembling an attempt to clearly prove that QAnon is the thing that it purports to be. If you keep pushing you’ll encounter nothing but anger as you run into a wall of cognitive dissonance.

This proves that QAnon is not even a proper conspiracy theory, as we’ve come to understand that term. Conspiracy theories, per definition, consist of some sort of concrete theory. QAnon, like Russiagate, consists of nothing other than something that people desperately want to believe and then seek out excuses which allow them to feel comfortable believing it. This makes it far more akin to a religion or a cult than a conspiracy theory.

If QAnon were legitimate, it would be easy for its followers to demonstrate that legitimacy in a clear and simple way. They never can.

  1. It’s made many bogus claims and inaccurate predictions.

I’m putting this one last instead of first because the appeal of QAnon has very little to do with facts and evidence; if you show these to a Q cultist they’ll typically just say “Oh Q didn’t really mean that” or “That one wasn’t the real Q” or even “Disinformation is necessary” (a John Bolton doctrine which QAnon itself has proclaimed on multiple occasions), but for anyone who’s kind of on the fence about the whole thing you should be aware that the QAnon phenomenon has been rife with demonstrable inaccuracies. Personally I prefer to focus on the behaviors of the QAnon cultists themselves, since they’re the ones interpreting the cryptic word salads and circulating those interpretations online. They behave as cheerleaders for their government’s most depraved agendas; it doesn’t really matter what they are being told to believe to get them to behave that way.

This recent Reddit post on r/conspiracy breaks down many of the bogus claims, inaccurate predictions and deceitful manipulations that the QAnon construct has made since its inception. They include claiming in October 2017 that Hillary Clinton had been arrested and to expect mass rioting in response, posting and then deleting a fake Podesta email, posting multiple photoshopped images as though they were real, posting a bogus photo suggesting that the operator of the account was on Airforce One, and posting bogus “codes” that are demonstrably nothing other than gibberish.

I don’t claim to know everything about this QAnon thing or who exactly is behind it, but these three points I just outlined in my opinion kill all doubt that it’s not what it purports to be. For anyone looking at them with intellectual honesty rather than the same way a creationist or cult member might look at something which challenges their faith, anyway.

It is not good that a vocal and enthusiastic part of Trump’s largely anti-interventionist, pro-WikiLeaks base has been propagandized into consistently stumping for longtime agendas of the CIA and the Pentagon. Someone’s benefiting from this, and it isn’t you.

________________________

Comment: In a present world where wishful thinking and over-ripe imaginations are far in excess of accuracy and truthfulness, historical incidents are almost always the victim of the wishful thinker or the creative liar.

          This is by no means a modern phenomenon as witness the strange and contradictory passages in the New Testament or in later histories that discussed the reality of dragons being seen in the sky, or in the water, and angels floating above battlefields. The desperation of some people who suffer from futile lives and chronic disappointments to have some special information with which to gain self-importance presents a rich soil in which to grow fantasies and delusional material.

          The credulous public, ever frantic for more and increasingly thrilling, and invented, conspiracies to nurture their small egos, will get their hands on these falsities, water and fertilize them and send them around to others with their own little invented additions.

          In the end, the criminal stupidity is effectively masked by the created images and management and government can prepare for the next disinformation campaign.

          Those who believe in mysterious conspiracies ought to recognize that they have become unknowing parts of a real conspiracy, the conspiracy of obfuscation, lies and official disinformation.

        
How William Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department to help Trump win
Former DOJ officials spoke about the attorney general’s efforts to undermine voting and his potential to unleash an “October surprise.”
August 29, 2020
by Peter Stone
The Intercept

On August 13,a day after President Donald Trump again charged that Democrats’ efforts to expand mail-in voting due to the pandemic will create “the greatest rigged election in history,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr too made unfounded and conspiratorial-sounding claims. Barr told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Democrats’ drive seeking to expand mail-in voting could raise “serious questions about the integrity of the election,” were “grossly irresponsible,” and “reckless.”

That was hardly the first time they seemed to agree. In a July House Judiciary hearing and in a June interview with Fox News, Barr joined Trump in his monthslong and spurious attacks on voting by mail. He told Fox that voting by mail “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud,” adding, without evidence, that “right now a foreign country could print tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots.”

“Barr has admitted he has no evidence of widespread mail-voting fraud,” former federal prosecutor and former senior official at Homeland Security Paul Rosenzweig told me. “All he is doing is trying, unsuccessfully, to give Trump a basis for challenging the election. This is not the job of the Attorney General.”

Barr has violated numerous fundamental norms as attorney general, using his sweeping powers to carry out actions and judgments that are politically beneficial to the president’s reelection campaign. Many former Justice Department officials say Barr’s actions and public statements are increasingly aimed at helping Trump’s political interests and friends, leading to an unprecedented politicization of the department by the nation’s top law enforcement officer. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Barr’s actions and views for this story.

Now, with under 70 days to the presidential election, the actions that pose the most consequential harm are those that threaten a free and fair election — especially Barr’s work to undermine, rather than uphold, voting rights and to publicly accuse Trump’s enemies.

“Barr has utterly and completely trashed the norm of DOJ separation from politics,” Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general who served in the George H.W. Bush administration just prior to Barr’s first stint as AG, told me. “For the last several months, Barr has been fully engaged in using the tools of the Justice Department primarily for the purpose of advancing the president’s election prospects.”

Voter Suppression

Barr’s attacks on mail-in voting seem to be well-choreographed with the president. “It has been repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare, yet Barr has continued to spew Trump’s false claim that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud,” Gerry Hebert, who spent 21 years working in the DOJ on voting rights issues, told me.

Hebert also stressed that Barr’s Justice Department has failed to protect voting rights. “There have been literally dozens of lawsuits all over the country to protect voting rights during the pandemic, so that voters don’t have to choose between voting and putting their health at risk. The Barr DOJ hasn’t yet weighed in on any of those cases.”

William Barr Has Turned the Justice Department Into a Law Firm With One Client: Donald Trump

Specifically, the Justice Department has failed to pursue pending court cases that seek to stop discriminatory voting practices, including ones that happened in 2018, 2019, and 2020, and these or similar cases could come up before November, say former DOJ lawyers. It has abstained from taking legal action in cases of voter purges that occurred in Georgia and Ohio in both 2018 and 2019. Likewise, the DOJ has been missing in action in cases involving polling place reductions during this year’s primaries in Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Georgia. And it has failed to take action in cases stemming from too few — or error-prone — voting machines in minority neighborhoods.

In the past, attorneys general have used their powers to send personnel to monitor polling sites to ensure there are no voting irregularities involving civil rights abuses; the Department of Justice did this in 2016. Critics fear now that Barr may heed Trump’s suggestions last week — when he railed, without evidence, that he could only lose due to a “rigged” election by Democrats and called for deploying law enforcement personnel — and send monitors who would intimidate voters, suppressing the overall vote

“It has been repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare, yet Barr has continued to spew Trump’s false claim that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud.”

“We will have to see whether Barr is prepared to implement what Trump wants, which appears to be harnessing law enforcement agencies to participate in an aggressive voter suppression effort,” former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich told me. “Neither Trump nor Barr has any legal authority over sheriffs, police departments, or state AGs, but Trump has now green-lighted rogue law enforcement elements around the country to undertake such efforts as voter suppression vigilantes. An attorney general who believed in the rule of law and democracy would come out four-square against such tactics.”

What’s more, Barr’s DOJ may wind up defending the U.S. Postal Service against lawsuits that were filed in mid-August by several state attorneys general challenging cutbacks in services that have been made in recent months that threaten to hurt the ability of the USPS to handle the greatly expanded volume of mail-in ballots expected this year. Barr’s DOJ could also back lawsuits by the Republican National Committee that have been filed in a few swing states, including Pennsylvania and Nevada, to curb mail-in voting plans by the states.

Barr’s commitment to ensuring election integrity became more suspect when the attorney general was asked at the House Judiciary hearing if the president could legally delay the election. Barr did not simply answer no but left the door open by replying evasively that “I’ve never been asked that question before” and “I’ve never looked into that.”

“Even a first-year law student would know the answer to that question,” Hebert quipped.

An October Surprise

Barr may be on the verge of deploying another unusual and norm-busting tactic. In May 2019, Barr launched an inquiry when he tapped Connecticut federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate the origins of how FBI and CIA officials in 2016 began “Operation Crossfire” looking at Kremlin meddling in the elections and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

The Durham inquiry was also spurred by Trump’s disdain for special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year probe that had just concluded that Russia interfered in 2016 in “sweeping and systematic” ways to help Trump win — a verdict that Trump has used to create a dark picture of a “deep state” of foes seeking to destroy his presidency. Now, critics fear that Barr will try to release a report on Durham’s probe this fall that Barr can spin to placate Trump — as the AG did by downplaying key parts of the Mueller report — fueling a campaign attack against Democrats. In his recent judiciary testimony, Barr was pressed on if and when a report on Durham might be released: Barr flatly declined to rule out its release prior to the elections, despite a Justice Department tradition of not making public any information that could sway an election 60 to 90 days before. “Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy,” he told the Judiciary Committee about his position.

“We’re not going to do anything for the purpose of affecting the election, but we’re trying to get some things done before the election.”

Barr has also made several public comments suggesting that the Durham probe has found some damaging and surprising new information. In his July House testimony, Barr called the FBI probe of possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow “bogus” and in a Fox news interview, he charged the FBI with trying to “sabotage the presidency.” Barr’s stream of comments fit with his attempts to undercut the Mueller report and bolster Trump’s barrage of charges that the Russia investigations were a “hoax,” while touting what Durham in tandem with Barr is pursuing.

“Given his past misrepresentations of the Mueller report, the American people should look very carefully and very skeptically at absolutely anything Barr announces this year,” Justin Levitt, a former DOJ prosecutor who now is a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told me. Barr could take Durham’s findings and spin them as well, to make them seem more damning of the early Russia probes by the FBI and CIA, say former DOJ officials.

“Barr’s active promotion of Durham’s investigation has already discredited it in the eyes of many,” Bromwich told The Intercept. “Any criminal charges or public report released close in time to the election — generally defined as within 60 days — would be viewed with great skepticism.”

Other former DOJ officials went farther. “It seems inevitable that Barr will attempt to unleash an October surprise through the Durham investigation,” Rosenzweig, the former prosecutor, told me.

But Trump’s hopes of big charges before the election seem unlikely, say former DOJ officials, who note that a recent 1,000-page bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee went further than Mueller in providing significant new evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians; according to the report, Konstantin Kilimnik, an active Kremlin military intelligence officer had extensive contacts with Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was convicted on eight counts of financial and tax crimes.

Barr has said that Durham, with whom he has reportedly worked closely (including making a trip to Italy last year to do interviews), is making progress and seems intent on digging into other possible misconduct involving FBI and CIA officials; ex-CIA Director John Brennan was reportedly interviewed this month for eight hours but has been told he’s not a target.

On August 12, Barr coyly told conservative talk-radio commentator Buck Sexton that “we’re not going to do anything for the purpose of affecting the election, but we’re trying to get some things done before the election.”

The next day, Trump told Fox News that “Bill Barr has the chance to be the greatest of all time. But if he wants to be politically correct, he’ll be just another guy.” And then, on August 14, it was announced that an ex-FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who was involved in one part of the 2016 inquiry would plead guilty to a charge of falsifying a document. Clinesmith formally entered his plea the following week.

Law and Order

Finally, as Trump’s law-and-order mantra has become a central campaign motif, Barr’s crackdown on largely peaceful protests in D.C., and authorizing federal agents to help fight violent crime in several cities run by Democrats look like ominous campaign ploys and possible harbingers of what’s ahead before November. Dubbed “Operation Legend,” the program began in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 8 and was soon after launched in eight other cities run by Democrats including Chicago; Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Cleveland; and Detroit, ostensibly to reduce violent crime with a key focus on gun violence.

Some former DOJ officials were taken aback last month when in an unorthodox move for an attorney general, Barr joined Trump at the White House for a campaign-style announcement about Operation Legend’s expansion to several cities run by Democrats, including Chicago. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot dubbed the event a “political stunt.”

Barr’s leading role in Operation Legend at times overlaps — and seems to be inspired by — a conspiratorial, far-right, and dystopian vision of urban chaos he has linked to Black Lives Matter protests, which the attorney general alleged in a Fox interview this month with Mark Levin. Barr labeled some Black Lives Matter protesters “bolsheviks” engaged in “urban guerrilla warfare,” driven by a “lust for power.”

Ex-prosecutor Rosenzweig was stunned by Barr’s comments to Levin. “They’re flat-out racist, dogwhistle, white supremacist nonsense,” he told me.

As criticism of Operation Legend mounted, Barr held a press briefing on August 19 in Kansas City to trumpet some 1,500 arrests in nine cities to date, including about 217 facing federal charges, according to Barr. Barr’s explanation for why there’s been a recent uptick in violent crime provided new signs that the program has a distinctly political edge: At his briefing, Barr cited a few possible causes such as “pent-up aggression” due to local and state coronavirus quarantine orders, the “defund the police” movement, and “premature release of violent criminals by the courts” during the pandemic.

Just where the DOJ may opt to expand the program before the election isn’t clear, but some former Justice Department lawyers fret that it will be increasingly aimed at cities in swing states.

What’s more, former DOJ officials note that it’s highly unusual for the feds to impose their will in cities and states without being invited initially, which has been the case so far in most of the urban areas targeted by Operation Legend — a trend that suggests just how political the DOJ campaign has been.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz in late July announced an inquiry that will examine how federal law enforcement, under Barr’s general direction, forcefully removed protesters from the area near Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., right before Trump’s photo-op holding a Bible upside down at a nearby church. But the results of that inquiry are likely to take months, if not years.

“Barr can’t achieve his mission of creating an unrestrained president if Trump isn’t reelected.”

“Barr has proven his loyalty to the president at any cost,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House Judiciary panel that grilled Barr in July, told The Intercept. “He’s shown a willingness to protect the president’s friends and to punish his enemies” — including dropping the DOJ’s case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, despite his twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about sanction talks he had with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office. Barr also intervened to suggest a lesser punishment for Trump’s long-time friend Roger Stone who was convicted on seven counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering; but Trump commuted his three-year prison sentence this summer to keep Stone out of jail.

Swalwell noted that among those Barr punished was Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who Barr, in tandem with Trump, suddenly forced out in June on dubious grounds. Berman’s office has been investigating a few high-profile cases involving Trump allies, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The Southern District has also been involved in a long-running probe into Trump’s inaugural funding, and it handled the successful prosecution of one-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who implicated Trump in campaign finance violations involving hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her in 2016 from discussing their affair years earlier.

Ayer, who has known Barr for almost four decades, stressed that Barr’s litany of actions to help Trump’s political agenda seem rooted in Barr’s long-standing advocacy of expanding presidential powers. “Barr has been committed for a very long time to a concept of the presidency that is virtually all-powerful,” Ayer told me last year. In many ways, Barr’s concept of an all-powerful presidency seems to fit well with Trump’s own oft-expressed absolutist view of his powers, Ayer added. “Barr can’t achieve his mission of creating an unrestrained president if Trump isn’t reelected.”

Driven to Abstraction: the inside story of a $60m art forgery hoax

For 15 years, one of New York’s most prestigious art galleries sold forged paintings – a new film explores how the art world fell for it

August 28, 2020

by Adrian Horton

The Guardian

In November 2011, the arthouse Knoedler & Company – an Upper East Side mainstay and one of modern art’s most trusted and elite shops – shuttered in the middle of a show. The venerable gallery, founded in 1846, had weathered the civil war, two global conflicts, bankruptcy, the expansion of the American art market, purchase by the actor Armie Hammer’s great-grandfather, and 9/11. But in the end, it mysteriously ceased operations with little more than an email announcement.

The closure sent shock waves through the fine art establishment, a notoriously insular and opaque world, but in the days and months that followed, a trickle of press leaks revealed the extent of the damage: for 15 years, Knoedler had procured and sold at least 40 fraudulent paintings – an astounding $60m of forged work attributed to such modern American masters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. It was, according to Driven to Abstraction, a new documentary on the scandal, “the greatest forgery hoax ever of modern American art”.

The scandal was all the more baffling given the status of the offending gallery – if you worked with Knoedler and its esteemed president, Ann Freedman, “you didn’t look at a painting and wonder whether it was a fake,” Daria Price, the film’s director, told the Guardian. “You just assumed, if it was a Knoedler, that it wasn’t [fake]. That was the atmosphere.” Driven to Abstraction explains, mostly through interviews with journalists, art observers, verification experts and attorneys, how such an esteemed gallery could steer so far awry, and for so long.

At the heart of a scandal was a remarkably homespun, given the status and moneyed anonymity of the fine art world, scheme to pass forgeries off as lost works by masters of abstract expressionism, run primarily by a Long Island woman named Glafira Rosales. An associate of Freedman’s since the gallery president took over Knoedler in 1994, Rosales was virtually unknown to the rest of the fine art dealers; it is unclear how she won over Freedman’s trust, but through a series of constantly shifting, flimsy stories, Rosales convinced Freedman of the existence of a mysterious, anonymous client – Mr X and his son, Mr X Jr, neither of whom were real. The Xs were supposedly looking to sell a trove of inherited treasures without documented provenance – they were gifts, clients were told, among other lies – which Rosales “discovered” over the course of 15 years from 1994 onward.

In truth, the works were painted in Queens by a Chinese immigrant and preternatural imitator named Pei-Shen Qian, with the alleged help of Rosales’s boyfriend, José Carlos Bergantiños Díaz, and his brother Jesús, using artificial ageing techniques such as staining the canvas with teabags to make it appear older. (Qian, who did not participate in the film, allegedly made just $5,000 per painting, and has maintained he didn’t know his paintings were being sold as genuine works of famous artists, and fled to China; the Bergantiños Díaz brothers fled to Spain; Rosales pleaded guilty to various charges, including tax evasion and wire fraud, in 2013).

The scheme outlined in Driven to Abstraction, which plays out in rhythm with the 2016 federal racketeering trial for $25m in damages levied against Knoedler by a disgruntled former client, is startlingly wide-reaching and brazen. Forged paintings on display in the gallery and private homes for years; basic questions about paper trails, origins and simple fallacies (why was a signature misspelled “Pollok”? How were some paintings crafted with materials unavailable at the time they were supposedly made?) went unanswered or ignored. The slow drip of forgeries, it was revealed, totaled an astounding $60m – and that’s just the known works.

The fraud was perpetuated, in part, by the fine art world’s fixation with anonymity and penchant for discretion; Price referenced an old saying that after drugs and guns, the art trade is the most unregulated in the world. “This is not accidental lack of transparency; this is the way they like it,” said Price. “The collectors like to be anonymous, the buyers like to be anonymous, the prices are anonymous … it all creates a world where this could happen.”

That secretiveness, and the embarrassment of the whole affair, made finding people directly involved in the case willing to speak on camera difficult. “The art world is so scared of itself,” Price said. “I always knew it was going to be a difficult film to make, because of the very secrecy that allowed the hoax to go on so long was systemic. I knew I would run up against people who just wouldn’t talk.”

Still, she said, it was surprising how people even tangentially related to the case expressed hesitation on speaking about it. “Just because they were dealers, or had to do with art fairs, just because it was such a tainted thing, there would be people who said ‘I think it’s great you’re making a film, but I can’t be in it,’” Price said.

It’s not that nobody ever saw the paintings, since several of the forged paintings showed at Armory art shows, “and it’s not even that nobody was ever suspicious,” Price added. It’s that the true extent of the fraud passed for years under the cover of a lack of inquiry. “If all the dealers and all the experts had all talked to each other and shared their feelings, maybe it would’ve been different,” said Price. “But you don’t talk about it.”

Freedman, who also did not participate in the film, vouched for the works’ authenticity until the last moment; she later claimed in an interview with New York Magazine that she was Rosales’s “central victim”, though it remains unclear how much of the fraud she knew about, and when. For the shuttered Knoedler & Company, the embarrassment caused by the scandal was protracted and costly; it took eight years for the 10th and final forgery lawsuit against the gallery to be settled in August 2019, the final chapter in the hoax saga.

Though Driven to Abstraction sticks strictly to the murky world of fine art dealing in the US, Price sees lessons in the film beyond the niche market of abstract expressionist paintings; the forgery scheme evinces what can happen, she said, in worlds predicated on anonymity, where passion and prestige can fluidly override doubt or even common sense – “the less one is entitled to tell all, the more vulnerable it is to abuses.”

Driven to Abstraction is not “getting at one final truth that wraps up neatly, but a way of telling how this evolved, how something like this could happen,” she said. “It’s not just about art – it’s about telling tall tales, and why it works.”

Driven to Abstraction is out to rent digitally in the US with a UK date yet to be announced.

The Anatomy of a Fraud

by Gregory Douglas

On May 23, 1977, a Basilisk Press of Santa Clara, California made a mass mailing. The yellow envelope sported a drawing of the mythological Basilisk, a creature described in the literature of the Middle Ages as being half serpent and half rooster whose very glance could kill.

Inside was a letter from the Press to prospective customers advertising a book that they were in the process of publishing. This was Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by one Friederich Hasek. The brochure spoke of “deliberate fakery” in the world of fine art and discussed a series of books on the subject of massive art fraud that the Press was in the process of publishing.

The Rodin book ad strongly alleged that “Rodin hired students to prepare works he took credit for” and “Rodin works were being faked in the artist’s lifetime and with his consent.” More interesting to some was the statement that preceded these that spoke of, “…the production of fake bronzes, outlining in detail how bronzes are produced and how to detect recent forgeries by a series of simple measurements.”

Other books the Press claimed were to be part of their new series were an additional eighteen titles covering such diverse topics as the bronzes of Remington, Georgian silver, ancient Greek and Roman coins, counterfeit Japanese swords, pre-Colombian and Incan artifacts and a number of other subjects that were guaranteed to give a terrible case of spastic colon to the majority of the major art galleries and auction houses.

It is the general, and very sensible, attitude on the part of individuals and organizations that might be severely damaged by such publications, to say absolutely nothing about a work that might well seriously damage their business and professional reputations, and pray that either the publisher will go bankrupt after the first book or be run over by a drunken truck driver while on the way to the bank.

Art salesmen thrive on publicity but only of their own generating.

However, in the case of the Basilisk mailing, one of the seeds fell into fertile ground and produced a mini-scandal which was no doubt very pleasing to someone but certainly not to persons who either bought or sold the works of Auguste Rodin.

One of these mailers apparently got into the hands of one Albert Edward Elsen, a local art expert, who shortly thereafter appeared at the address of the Basilisk Press given on the envelope. It was 2275 Park Avenue in Santa Clara and it housed a Western Union office, telephone answering service and mail drop firm.

There was no sign anywhere on the building to indicate that the Press was engaged in business there.

In spite of this, Elsen, an overweight and florid man with a thick, graying mustache, had a highly vocal and very intemperate heated exchange with the manager of the mail service, demanding at full voice to know where the owners of the press lived. When told that this information was not available, he became even more agitated and was eventually asked to leave the premises before the police had to be summoned.

In August of 1978, George Schattle, an industrial designer of Menlo Park, California, a suburb of San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the County of Santa Clara, California.

The suit charged one Albert Edward Elsen, a professor of art history at the prestigious Stanford University and a published specialist on the works of French Impressionist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, with libel, defamation, interference with advantageous contractual rights and invasion of privacy.

Mr. Schattle requested $3.75 million in punitive and exemplary damages from the savant-cum-art expert.

Most of the issues raised in this case relate directly to the marketing of what is sometimes called ‘fine art’ and although Schattle vs. Elsen achieved a very private, out-of-court settlement, the facts remain a matter of record and highlight what appears to be certain questionable but long-accepted practices in the merchandising of fine art.

Schattle’s claim was that on August 3, 1978, Professor Albert Edward Elsen had written a completely unsolicited letter on his official Stanford University letterhead to one Jerry Jensen, a television anchorman with the San Francisco-based KGO-TV.

Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins, attached this letter to the suit as Exhibit A and as it is public record, significant portions of it are quoted here:

“Dear Mr. Jenson (sic)

“From Gay Morris, who writes on art for the Palo Alto Times, and who has been in touch with the Basilisk Press people, I gather you have a copy of a manuscript titles, ‘Rodin: Portrait of a Fraud’ (sic) authored by Frederich Hasek. I am also given to understand that you have a long time interest in art frauds and that your researches coincide with the findings in this manuscript. Gay Morris was told this on the phone by a M. McGregor who claims to be one of a group of businessmen who have bought manuscripts from Hasek.”

There is a reference to someone Elsen suspects might have written the manuscript, couched in savage, and badly written, derogatory terms and the letter continues:

“For the past three years he and a George Schattle of Menlo Park have been trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four reputedly unique Rodin sculptures, supposedly obtained by an American army officer during the second world war (sic) from Goering’s art collection, to which they had come after the Wehrmacht moved into Poland. These sculptures come in a Wehrmacht crate and these men have a raft of documentation testifying to the authenticity of the Wehrmacht markings–but not a scintilla of evidence on that of the sculptures. The sculptures are outright fakes. For three years, and on one occasion working with the police, I have thwarted the sale of these sculptures.”

Elsen goes on to claim that over the years, Schattle and others have tried to slander him, Stanford University, “one of our principle (sic) donors,” and even the government of France! He continues on to state that the alleged author of the manuscript also “libels Rodin (Rodin never ‘condoned fakes’ in his lifetime, as the Basilisk Press advertised in its flyer on the book.)”

Elsen was undoubtedly unaware that the dead cannot be libeled.

The balance of this rather extraordinary outburst sets forth the writer’s academic and literary credentials (and the latter are not especially bolstered by a mass of grammatical errata) and claims that he is the world’s “foremost expert on Rodin”, finally asking Jensen, in a burst of petulant outrage, “Why, in fact, are you given the manuscript to read but not me?”

He concludes with a demand to see the manuscript in Mr. Jensen’s possession and have the pleasure of his company through a personal visit when Professor Elsen can personally discuss the “truth and the reputation of a great artist.”

By one means or another, never made clear by any of the parties to the suit, this letter came into the possession of the unfortunate Mr. Schattle who then referred it to an attorney.

Prior to the filing of this suit, Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins of San Jose, wrote on May 25, 1978, to Stanford President Richard Lyman.

“Dear President Lyman

“Please be advised that this office represents Mr. George Schattle in connection with pending litigation involving the activities of Professor Albert Elsen.

“Mr. Schattle is the owner of four (4) pieces of Rodin sculpture which he believes to be authentic. Mr. Elsen has examined two of these pieces and for subjective reasons best known to him, Mr. Elsen has formed the opinion that said pieces are not genuine. Another noted art expert has expressed a contrary view.

“Had Mr. Elsen let this matter rest, there would have been no significant problem. However, for unexplained reasons, Mr. Elsen has personally undertaken a campaign to discredit and damage Mr. Schattle and to destroy the value of Mr. Schattle’s sculptures.

“I am enclosing herewith a copy of Mr. Elsen’s unsolicited letter of Aug 3, 1977 addressed to Mr. Jerry Jensen of Channel 7 news. You will note that the letter is on Stanford University stationery and makes reference to Mr. Elsen’s position at Stanford University. This letter is libelous on its face in that it accuses Mr. Schattle of ‘trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four unique Rodin sculptures….’ Other references in the letter are equally as damaging and distasteful.

“Furthermore, Mr. Elsen admits that he has thwarted the sale of my client’s sculptures and it has come to my attention that Mr. Elsen has contacted the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the District Attorney of Santa Clara County, and the Palo Alto Police Department in an effort to have unfounded criminal charges files against Mr. Schattle. Elsen has engaged in other activities which are equally as bizarre and damaging to my client’s reputation and financial interests, but it would serve no purpose to detail such activity in this letter. Suffice it to say that this office is in the process of preparing a complaint against Mr. Elsen on behalf of Mr. Schattle to recover damages resulting from Mr. Elsen’s conduct.

“The purpose of this letter is to determine whether or not Stanford University should be included as a party defendant in this matter. Mr. Elsen’s libelous letter was written on Stanford University stationery and he has apparently represented himself to the news media and the police authorities as speaking on behalf of the University. If in fact Stanford University has authorized, ratified, or affirmed Mr. Elsen’s conduct in this matter I will, of course, have no choice but to name the University as a party defendant. If Mr. Elsen was acting as an individual without the authority of the University I would refrain from naming Stanford as a party to this litigation.

“Therefore, I would appreciate hearing from your representative in the immediate future concerning the posture of the University in this matter. If I do not hear anything from you within two weeks of the date of this letter, I shall have no choice other than to proceed with the litigation with the University as a party defendant. I hope that you would give this matter your immediate attention and I am looking forward to hearing from your representative in this regard.”

John J. Schwartz, University Counsel, with a copy to Albert Elsen, sent Stanford’s response on June 5, 1978.

“Dear Mr. Hawkins:

“I am responding to your letter of May 25, 1978 to President Lyman. In answer to your question, please be advised that Stanford University has not authorized, ratified or affirmed the action to which you refer.”

The lawsuit against Elsen, duly amended, was filed on December 22, 1978.

An initial impression would certainly be that this litigation appears to be based on a sharp difference of subjective opinion between a highly aggressive, opinionated expert with very little self-control on the one hand and another individual who is in possession of art work that the published expert believes to unoriginal.

Both the letter and the actions of Elsen could well indicate that the art professor had become so outraged at the thought of fakes being marketed that his zeal overcame whatever common sense he might possess, causing him to overreact to the point where provable and actionable indiscretions were committed.

On the other hand, the violence and apparent malice of Elsen’s reaction is certainly out of character for the occupant of the Walter A. Haas Chair of Art History at a prestigious and wealthy university.

Sedate institutions of higher learning do not, as a rule, condone members of their faculty engaging in distasteful public vendettas and in this case, quickly and officially distanced themselves from the specter of an ugly lawsuit with a potential for negative publicity for both the institution and one of its more prominent and tenured staff members.

Albert Elsen was not a stranger to media attention and had been presenting himself with vigor in the local press for some time prior to the Schattle suit. He was very evidently not the sort of individual to keep his opinions, correct or otherwise, to himself.

Albert Edward Elsen was born in New York City in 1927 and obtained his PhD at Columbia University in 1955. From 1952 to 1958, he was associate professor of art at Carleton College in Minnesota, later an associate professor at Indiana University from 1958 to 1962 and a full professor from 1963 to 1968. Elsen had been engaged by Stanford as a professor of art history in 1968.

Among his publication credits are two works that deal specifically with the works of Auguste Rodin: Rodin’s Gates of Hell in 1960 and Rodin in 1963.

In February of 1974, the San Francisco Bay Area press carried several stories about a large gift of Rodin works to Stanford University by one B. Gerald Cantor, a Los Angeles investment banker.

As reported, the initial gift consisted of an incredible 88 pieces of Rodin’s work and this largess was increased by an additional seventy more Rodin sculptures from the cultivated and benevolent banker. The press stories also mentioned that Cantor was donating a large sum of cash to Stanford to establish a ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden.’

Elsen was quoted very often in print as saying that all of these pieces had been made during Rodin’s lifetime, the last one completed “a few months before Rodin’s death in 1917.”

Nearly all of the pieces were bronzes and all, without exception, bore the signature ‘A. Rodin’ and most noteworthy, the French foundry marking, ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris.’

Elsen and Cantor both stated repeatedly to the press that this impressive collection was valued at $3 million, five hundred thousand at current art market prices.

Lengthy, well-illustrated local press coverage contained statements by Elsen about the importance of this huge collection of original Rodin works and all of these articles were graced with large photographs of Elsen himself in proximity to the Cantor gifts.

As Mr. Cantor, the generous benefactor, had also included a cash bequest of over $ 200 thousand so that the University could create the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden,’ University publications produced articles lauding Mr. Cantor’s generosity and vision. Pictures accompanying the Stanford articles showed the beaming donor standing in proximity to several of his gifts.

Over the next three years, relative quiet descended on the subject of Rodin and his bronzes, broken only by occasional press releases generated by Elsen and the University about the progress of the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden’ at Stanford’s aging and earthquake-damaged museum complex.

One article did appear in the San Francisco ‘Chronicle’ that did not laud the brilliance of Albert Edward Elsen, the great generosity of B. Gerald Cantor or the advantages to society in general of a Rodin sculpture garden.

This was a piece in a Sunday supplement by Alfred Frankenstein, also a published art historian, art critic for the ‘Chronicle’, lecturer on art at Stanford University and a personal friend of Albert Elsen.

In this article, Frankenstein made very pointed, though not specific, mention of the “recent appearance of four fake Rodin pieces in the Bay Area.”

Prior to the appearance of this article, on April 6, 1974, George Schattle kept an appointment he had made with Rodin expert Elsen at the latter’s home on Alvarado Row on the Stanford campus. Schattle brought two bronze works of art with him for this meeting.

Several years previously, in 1972, Schattle had bought four crated statues from the Ryan family of Newport Beach, California. One of the family members was acquainted with Schattle’s mother and as Mr. Schattle was a collector of old arms and armor, the Ryans felt that the old statues stored in their garage since the end of the Second World War might be of interest to him because of their connection with Hermann Goering. As they told Schattle at the time, one of their relatives had found the crates on Goering’s abandoned private train in Bavaria at the end of the war.

The custom-built crates and their markings appeared to be entirely authentic but it was not possible for Schattle to determine the value of the statues inside. As Professor Elsen was a well-publicized Bay Area expert and had appeared often, and at length, in the local media on the subject of Rodin, Schattle contacted him for his professional opinion of the pieces and their possible value for reasons of obtaining insurance.

Elsen, according to Schattle’s subsequent deposition, appeared to be very agitated when told that these pieces had once been the property of Hermann Goering and had, according to the labels on the crates, been acquired by the Germans in Poland in 1939. He stated that these pieces had been obviously stolen by the “evil Nazis and had to be returned at once.” Citing his credentials, Elsen offered to act as a disinterested party in returning what he called “Nazi loot.”

Initially, after Elsen had inspected the pieces, there was no talk about them being fake but when Schattle refused to discuss returning them to Polish custody, Elsen, again according to the deposition, became alarmingly angry and said in a loud voice that he now determined that both the pieces were very recent fakes and could not be sold by Schattle without his certainly being arrested for possession of stolen material.

Elsen then renewed his offer to take “protective custody” of the pieces and thereby relieve Schattle of any further possibility of prosecution. Schattle again declined and left Elsen in what he described, and what seems entirely believable considering Elsen’s behavior, as a “very loud, incoherent rage. He shouted at me that if I didn’t immediately give him all of these Rodin pieces, he would have me arrested that night by the FBI.”

It would seem that Albert Edward Elsen did not number an understanding of basic logic among his many virtues because if the pieces were recent fakes, as Elsen alleged, they could not at the same time be loot from 1939 Poland.

The next day, Elsen wrote a long letter to Schattle setting forth his own esthetic and very subjective reasons why all of the pieces were obvious fakes. Since the angry expert had only seen two of the four, this judgment could only be considered as faulty at best.

As example of his polished, professional writing, Elsen’s last sentence read:

“In neither sculpture is the finishing and patina up to Alexis Rudier (sic) standards. I gather from you that the Victor Hugo was repatined. It is a lousy job.”

As Schattle merely wanted approximate values of his pieces for insurance purposes, he then turned to Thomas Carr Howe, former director of the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, an institution that possessed a large collection of original Rodin works that had been purchased prior to the sculptor’s death in 1917.

Mr. Howe had also been deeply involved with the recovery and identification of looted German art following the end of the war in Europe and was able to favorably address not only the originality of the four bronzes but also the distinctive, custom-made wooden crates in which they came.

He duly authenticated the pieces in writing and there the matter remained until the Frankenstein article.

When Mr. Schattle called the editorial department of the ‘Chronicle’ to complain about the implications of fraud contained in the article, he was informed by legal counsel for the paper that since the Schattle name had not appeared in the article nor the pieces specifically identified, no actual damages had occurred and therefore no retraction of any kind would issue.

When later called by Schattle, Alfred Frankenstein refused to speak with him other than to inform him, very emotionally, as Schattle reported in his deposition, “gangs of Nazis were behind this and have been attacking poor Al Elsen.”

Schattle said later when interviewed for this article, that he had visions of very elderly SS men, armed with walkers and canes, throwing refuse on Elsen’s crabgrass-infested front lawn on Alvarado Row.

Subsequent to the publication of the Frankenstein article, Elsen had learned of Howe’s authentication of the questioned pieces and bombarded the retired museum head with numerous, aggressive telephone calls, urging him to withdraw his opinion. Howe eventually did so in a formal letter to Schattle but without questioning their authenticity. He merely withdrew permission to use his name but did not state that the bronzes in question were fake.

In an interview with a member of the media, the notes of the reporter who later spoke with Howe quoted him as saying, “I am too old and I do not want to get into a pissing match with Al Elsen.”

It was shortly after this that the Basilisk Press sent out its momentous flyer.

Subsequently, a Ms. Gay Morris, art critic for the Palo Alto Times, a small paper in the town adjacent to Stanford University, wrote a letter to the Press and was at once contacted by a Mr. MacGregor who claimed to be a director of the firm. It was subsequently disclosed that Ms Morris was a former pupil of the great Rodin expert.

Mr. MacGregor told the art critic a good deal about the book, its author and the new Rodin collection at Stanford. Somehow in the conversation, MacGregor intimated that Mr. Jerry Jensen, a well-known local television personality, was interested in the pieces at Stanford and he implied, according to Elsen’s letter to Jensen, that there was some question about the authenticity of this collection.

This information was obviously given to Elsen by his former pupil and this resulted in the disastrous letter.

As if this imputation of chicanery was not enough of a provocation to Elsen, he then received in the mail from an unknown source, a copy of what was purported to be a news article from an undated and unidentified newspaper.

“And more news of local travelers…. Harvey and Joan Kildrup (he’s head of the Ardeth Grange) have returned from three weeks in Palm Springs with beautiful tans and four unique works of art by famed French artist August (sic) Rodin. A previous owner was the infamous Nazi bigwig Herman Goring (sic). The Kildrups will be entertaining Dr. Frederick Hasek, Rodin authority who arranged the sale, this summer. Also included in their purchases is a painting by Claude Monet which once hung in Goring’s (sic) office.”

Upon receipt of this undated, unidentified and anonymous item, Elsen immediately contacted various local offices of both state and federal law enforcement agencies, including a futile attempt to speak personally with the Attorney General of the United States. Elsen also contacted as many members of the local media as he could find.

Several reporters later indicated in their articles, most of which were written tongue in cheek, that Albert Elsen was verging on hysteria and extremely difficult to understand.

An article appearing in the Palo Alto ‘Times’ of August 19, 1977, disclosed that there was no municipality by the name of Ardeth in the continental United States and when the FBI attempted to locate an Ardeth Grange at Elsen’s repeated insistence, they found that no such farmer’s organization chapter ever existed.

At this point, it could be quite reasonably assumed that Professor Elsen had certainly overreacted to provocation that was transparently false. His verbal explosions could well be ascribed to territorialism for Elsen was, by his own oft-repeated statements, the leading American expert on Rodin, but his injudicious letter to Jensen appeared to be far more concerned with the contents of the alleged forthcoming book on Rodin fakes than in exposing art work he felt was not original.

The basic thrust of the letter, which had obviously been triggered by the anonymous clipping that appeared to be the creative and malicious work of persons still unknown, appeared to be far more of a frantic and insistent demand to know what had been written about the faking of Rodin statues than to address Mr. Schattle’s Polish pieces, though Elsen did manage to attack them with his usual disconnected venom as well.

Perhaps Professor Elsen had been further provoked by Mr. Jensen’s probing into the art circles of the Bay Area.

On June 7 of that year, nearly a month before Elsen wrote his letter, Jensen contacted a number of institutions and experts to verify certain controversial matters that were contained in his copy of the Hasek manuscript.

Jensen’s notes of the contacts contain considerable information not generally in the public domain nor highly unlikely to ever be so.

From a Ms. Cameron of the staff of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, he learned concerning Rodin bronzes that a “Paris factory is churning them out and selling them world wide.”

His next call, according to his notes, was to Ian White of the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco, who, upon being read quotations from the manuscript, said they were “essentially true” but referred Jensen to Elsen for any further comment.

Jensen also contacted fellow Bohemian Club member, Thomas Carr Howe who acknowledged seeing the Schattle Rodins and indicated that they appeared original but that Elsen had disagreed with him. Among other remarks about Elsen, Howe also added that art fakery was “the most lucrative pastime in the world…if you can get away with it.”

Jensen’s last call was to Alfred Frankenstein, a personal friend of both himself and Albert Elsen. Frankenstein had apparently been well-briefed on the subject by Elsen so when Jensen asked him about the allegations in the manuscript, Frankenstein cut him off and claimed that he was well aware of the book and stated that it was written by someone trying to make money by “spreading lies about the art world.” He flatly refused to discuss the matter until Jensen supplied him with a full copy of the manuscript.

Jensen did not do so and the immediate result of his refusal was a quick chilling of his relationship with Frankenstein.

Apparently, there was considerable activity behind the scenes following these calls because Jensen received a personal telephone call on September 15, 1977 from Dr. Wallace Sterling, President Emeritus of Stanford and an old friend. It deserves to be quoted from Jensen’s notes in full.

“Received a call this AM from W. Sterling, former Pres of Stanford. Old Friend. Ster. sez ‘What’s all this about the Rodins?’ When told about findings, sez, ‘Isn’t all of this just a matter of opinion?’ Understood someone is putting out slanderous statements about the originality of the Cantor donation and poss. income tax fraud. ‘I don’t think we need this.’ Rep, tax angle not in question but only originality of Stanford pieces/gifts. St. sez ‘We have chance of becoming Rodin study center…good PI.’ Mentioned letter from Elsen. St. sez ‘Al Elsen is an asset to the University’ but admits’ he beats his own drum too much.’ Asked if Elsen gets fees from outside appraisals, sez ‘We are very liberal in our policy about outside income.’ Also wants complete copy of book, sez ‘Al Frankenstein beating my ear about this one.’ Sez he knows nothing about Schattle but also ‘Al thinks he owns Rodin, lock, stock and barrel and gets upset when challenged. No crime though, just a personality problem.’ Sez ‘Hope we can resolve this without any further media coverage.’

In the event, Dr. Sterling’s apprehensions did not materialize because Mr. Jensen decided against airing any of his findings.

His notes indicated that he felt the story was on the verge of getting out of control and causing acute problems for many people who were personal friends.

He also mentioned that Sterling had offered him the possibility of a lucrative public relations job at the University, obviously to assist him in his decision about any airing of the entire matter.

No further comments from Dr. Sterling, who died shortly afterwards, appear in Jensen’s notes.

When asked about the matter later by a student reporter for the Stanford Daily, Jensen stated that he had no contact with Elsen prior to receiving the letter that led to the lawsuit and concluded his interview of March 1, 1979 by saying:

“I have no idea, in God’s name, what led him to write that letter. He might have heard from other sources that I may have done research that could lead to something embarrassing.”

The question of the originality of the Schattle Rodins is basically a difference of subjective opinion between art experts but the matter of the Hasek manuscript is not as clear cut.

Basilisk Press, which claimed to be bringing forth a book on fake Rodin bronzes as well as the simple technical means by which such fakes could be detected by possible purchasers or even owners, was housed in a commercial building that hosted a telephone answering service and mail drop concern. Investigation has disclosed that Basilisk Press was not licensed to operate in the city or county of Santa Clara or any other county of the State of California.

A search of the records of the Library of Congress and other public sources does not show any publication entitled Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by Frederick Hasek. Basilisk Press has apparently never published any books at all and yet a manuscript obviously did exist because Mr. Jensen read parts of it to various individuals.

The only known copy of the work was located in Mr. Jensen’s files after his death in 1984. It was in a file filled with typed notes on the subject of fake Rodin pieces and the activities of Albert Elsen. Some of these notes have been reprinted here.

The Hasek manuscript is basically a work concerned with an overview of art frauds, most especially frauds concerning Auguste Rodin, a history of the French sculptor and a fascinating section on the manufacture of bronze works of art and how fakes or copies of known famous bronzes can be easily detected.

Portions of the Hasek manuscript are set forth here to provide the reader with a strong and highly reasonable explanation for the furious and intemperate actions of Professor Albert Elsen and others who shared a strong vested interest in avoiding any controversy whatsoever concerning Auguste Rodin and his works.

“Fakery, fraud and deceit have long been handmaidens to the Muse of the Fine Arts and the marketplace for sculpture and paintings is no place for the uninitiated. Yet every day, thousands of dollars worth of allegedly original and rare pieces change hands, enriching the few and deluding the many.”

This is the opening of the work and the author goes on to be far more specific.

“An original piece by any artist, be it Rodin or Da Vinci, is one that the artist conceived and at least partially executed in his lifetime. Anything else, regardless of whatever euphonious title be applied to it: ‘authorized,’ ‘post-mortem work,’ or ‘posthumous casting’ is nothing more nor less than a modern copy, worth only a small fraction of the price of an original. Further, a modern piece taken from an unsigned original plaster study and carrying a copy of the signature of the purported artist is nothing less than a forgery and of even less worth than a replica which originally bore the artist’s name.”

Examining the career of Rodin, the author continues:

“…. in November of 1913, Rodin angrily demanded that a work, ‘The Earth’ attributed to him and on display at the gallery of a Parisian dealer be seized as a forgery. Shortly thereafter, it was conclusively proved that the piece had in fact been done by Rodin himself in 1898 and displayed by him at the Exposition Rodin. Confronted with this evidence, Rodin freely admitted that he had been in error. This episode is an excellent example of why ‘absolute’ statements must be view with great caution.”

There follows a technical discussion of the preparation of molds of sculpture and the techniques for the casting of bronze works. It concludes with the passage:

“The general impression that ‘original molds’ of plaster exist into which molten bronze is poured is completely incorrect in point of fact and if used, would prove to be dangerous in the extreme, the plaster exploding on contact with the hot metal.

“The rubber mold may be used time and time again to produce more wax pieces but every bronze must be hand done and is not poured into a mold like a lead soldier.”

And further:

“The statement, so often heard, that ‘Rodin pieces are cast with his consent from original molds’ is completely false and a deliberate attempt to mislead prospective purchasers. What does exist in Paris at the Museé Rodin are original plasters…and bronzes…and it is from these that new molds are made and from these new molds, new copies. This is called surmoulage and the resulting pieces are replicas, to be more than generous, not ‘authorized pieces from original patterns.'”

This section ends with specifics that need no comment:

“How is it possible, then, to detect a fake Rodin made in this manner if it is made up from original bronzes or an original plaster?

“Firstly, if the piece is taken from an original bronze, it should be noted that bronze shrinks as it cools from the molten state and therefore a copy will always be smaller than the original. In the case of bronze, the shrinkage amounts to 5%. Attempts have been made to offset this shrinkage by adding small amounts of wax to the base of the waxen form prior to casting. This will serve to bring the height up to the correct size but the width cannot be altered.

“Secondly, the foundry markings on copy Rodin pieces are of great importance. In Rodin’s time, he very often used the famous Parisian firm of Alexis Rudier. This gentleman did not use the lost-wax process described here but instead, cast his pieces in fine sand.

“This is called sand casting as opposed to lost-wax casting and the interiors of the pieces show very clearly what process was used. Lost-wax pieces show details of the painting or pouring of the wax while sand cast pieces have an even, slightly gritty inner surface (which can be smoothed out but is still very uniform.)

“Original Rodin pieces show the foundry marks, ‘Alexis Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ on the outer surface of the bronze, generally at the base near the artist’s signature.

“In 1954, the Museé Rodin began to use the services of one Georges Rudier, nephew of Eugiene, the son of the original Alexis. Georges Rudier, unlike his ancestor, uses the lost-wax casting process and it should become painfully obvious, therefore, that a piece marked ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ must of necessity be a very modern replica and, of course, not made from ‘the original mold under authority from Rodin himself.’

“Most of these modern surmoulage replicas are badly produced and instead of being carefully patined by hand with heat and chemicals, are painted with a brown lacquer.

“One should note that the collection of the Museé Rodin contains all of the pieces found in Rodin’s studio at the time the collection was taken over by the French government; including many pieces made by Rodin’s students. Also in the collection are many plaster maquettes or small studies for larger pieces. Some of these crude and unsigned plaster studies have appeared on the art market in bronze, signed ‘A.Rodin’ and with the Georges Rudier foundry signature. The original studies were never signed and as examples of the artist’s work in progress (if they were even done by Rodin and not an eager pupil) have some small value but small value indeed when compared with the selling prices of known originals.”

The final comment on the subject of copies is:

“A general rule of thumb in measuring a casting to determine its pedigree is the 5% figure. A work which approximates 5% less in size than a known prime copy is a secondhand work without question and most certainly neither original nor of any value whatsoever other than a decorative piece with which to impress visitors.”

In a published interview with a student reporter from the Stanford ‘Daily’ on February 16, 1979, Charles Hawkins, Schattle’s attorney said he believed the case would hold “some surprises” and felt that it would be quickly resolved but that it if wasn’t concluded within a month, it could open up a whole new issue.

“What we might get into in this case is that Stanford might be holding $3 million in fakes.”

This admonition must have had some effect because Elsen suddenly stopped preparing regular press releases attesting to the absolute authenticity of the Cantor bequest and two months later, with no press coverage whatsoever, quietly settled the case out of court. The terms of the settlement were never made public and are not a part of the official records now located in the courthouse annex in San Jose.

Mr. Jensen’s notes indicate that after the settlement, Professor Elsen made repeated and very vocal attempts to contact him to discover how Elsen’s letter had ended up in the hands of George Schattle. Jensen declined to speak with Elsen and after the furious Rodin expert made a number of additional but equally fruitless calls on the same subject to other staff members at KGO-TV in San Francisco, he gave up his quest.

Jensen made one final note on the case before he closed his files. This dealt with the sale of the Hasek manuscript on Rodin fakes to parties whom Jensen called “concerned, interested and very influential parties from the higher reaches of the art world” for an undisclosed but apparently impressive sum of money. Jensen was requested by the purchasers, who Jensen listed by name, title and occupation, to surrender his copy of the manuscript. He claimed that he had disposed of it by giving it to his former friend, Alfred Frankenstein. As the latter had very recently died as the result of a massive heart attack, the purchasers abandoned their pursuit.

Jensen obviously did not dispose of the manuscript and it was subsequently found in his papers, quite intact and covered with the late newsman’s notes.

Jensen’s last note said:

“Al Frankenstein was wrong after all. If someone wrote a book telling lies about the art world, the author managed to convince the big boys otherwise.”

The four Rodin statues that began the controversy were reported in the media as having been sold by Mr. Schattle for an undisclosed but substantial sum.

There were no further public comments from Professor Albert Edward Elsen when news of this sale became public.

Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud was written in 1977 and one statement made at the conclusion of the manuscript is now in error.

“There is another use to which replica art may be put besides merely merchandising it to the trusting and innocent. Wealthy individuals are known to buy up quantities of replicas and then make some kind of arrangement with a willing expert whereby the latter will supply an appraisal attesting to the high intrinsic value of the items.

“Armed with this, and often with the further assistance of the expert, the owner of the pieces now poses as a philanthropist and distinguished patron of the arts and in this role, donates the replicas to a public, non-profit institution such as a museum or public gallery. He is then able to declare this gift on his income tax return and take a massive deduction based, not on the purchase price, but the appraisal value.”

In 1986, the tax laws were altered to specifically to prevent this from happening. From that year onwards, the only sum a donor of art objects to a tax-free entity cam claim is the actual purchase price of the piece or pieces, not an inflated valuation supplied by a potentially venial expert.

Perhaps this aspect of the manuscript was what Mr. Jensen meant when he spoke of “something embarrassing.”

The chronicle of the four Rodin pieces is such an interesting microcosm of the more negative aspects of the human condition in general and the fine art market in specific that its study has proven to be well worth the research involved.

There seems to be no question that it is relatively easy to make fake copies of original bronze works of art. Merchandising them, one can clearly see, calls for the cooperation of a willing expert. but in reading through the thick files of official documents, letters, notes, records of depositions and yellowing newspaper clippings, the reader is struck by what most certainly appears to be a pattern of very malicious manipulation of individuals and establishments.

The chronology of events would seem to indicate that the elusive but quite deadly manuscript that caused so much trouble appeared after Mr. Schattle had his personal encounter with Professor Elsen.

It also seems reasonably certain that someone, perhaps Mr. Schattle but more probably someone else, had taken the measure of both the art world and one of its more emotional spokesmen and played on all of them like an out of tune piano.

Two decades after the final settlement was made, the questioned pieces sold and Elsen retired to his classroom to lick his wounds, most of the participants are dead and rapidly forgotten.

Mr. Howe, Jerry Jensen, Dr. Sterling, Alfred Frankenstein and a number of others have left the stage. B. Gerald Cantor gave more of his interesting pieces to Stanford’s Rodin Sculpture Garden, which resulted in a small article in the local press, and then joined the others in their very long silence. Only Albert Edward Elsen and George Schattle remain and somewhere, there are four Rodin bronze statues, which produced a great deal of entertaining sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.

 

Envoi

At the beginning of February, 1995, a copy of this commentary was sent to Professor Albert Elsen, by an academic colleague for his comments and observations.

On February 5, 1995, a news story came over the Associated Press wire concerning the progenitor of the Rodin Sculpture Garden.

Stanford-AP  Albert Elsen, a Stanford University art professor and expert on the sculptor Auguste Rodin, has died. He was 67. M. Elsen died Thursday of an apparent heart attack.”

 $9 million Rodins: Police help get them back to their owner

by Andrea Gemet

Almanac Staff Writer

Aprill 10, 2001

Four small bronze statues worth $9 million were recently returned to their owner after a disappearance of nearly nine years following a soured business deal with a Menlo Park man.

The story of the statues — which were bought at a Menlo Park garage sale 30 years ago, went missing, and were finally returned to their lucky owner — sounds more like an exciting episode of Antiques Roadshow than a case handled by Menlo Park police detectives.

George Schattle, a Bay Area antique gun collector, discovered four statues by eminent French sculptor Auguste Rodin at a garage sale in 1972. The sculptures are 25 inches tall and weigh 30 pounds each; they are signed and have been authenticated, with an appraised value of $9 million, according to Menlo Park police detective Sgt. Larry Shannon.

In 1992, after Mr. Schattle retired and moved to Mexico, he decided to sell the statues and entered into a sale agreement with Menlo Park resident Robert Devlin, whose girlfriend owned an antique store, said Sgt. Shannon.

Mr. Schattle contacted Menlo Park police in 1996 after repeatedly trying to get back either his statues or the money from their sale from Mr. Devlin, said Sgt. Shannon.

Menlo Park detectives could find no proof of the sale agreement between Mr. Schattle and Mr. Devlin, and handed the matter over to the civil courts.

But, in 1999, Mr. Schattle’s attorney came back to Menlo Park police detectives to ask for their help, and left the entire case file with them, said Sgt. Shannon. In it, detectives discovered the original signed agreement between Mr. Schattle and Mr. Devlin, setting into motion a court battle that landed Mr. Devlin in jail, Sgt. Shannon said.

Mr. Devlin was ordered by a judge to return the statues, and when he failed to do so, was ordered to pay Mr. Schattle $9 million, according to Sgt. Shannon.

When he failed to come up with the money, Mr. Devlin was hauled into court on contempt charges and Menlo Park police were again asked to step in.

Menlo Park police detective Paul Kunkel was one of the detectives who escorted Mr. Devlin from a courtroom to his house and back last August, after a judge ordered him to produce documents showing the statues’ whereabouts. Mr. Devlin refused to and was jailed, said Det. Kunkel.

“The judge went out of his way to give (Mr. Devlin) as much time and latitude as possible, but he was just not doing it,” said Det. Kunkel. “If you don’t follow a judge’s orders, you can end up in lot of trouble and he did. He got put in jail.”

The missing statues showed up less than two weeks later and Mr. Devlin was released from jail, according to Sgt. Shannon. After several postponed court dates, the statues were finally returned to Mr. Schattle in January, and his attorney reports that a prospective buyer has been found in England.

Detective Kunkel said the case is one of the most unusual he has ever been involved in.

“It was really interesting. We don’t deal with a lot of art theft,” he said. “And all of the personalities involved were very interesting.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How You Can Be 100% Certain That QAnon Is Bullshit

May 27, 2020

by Caitlin Johnstone

Scoop

President Trump has yet again advanced an evil longstanding agenda of America’s depraved intelligence and defense agencies, so as usual the QAnon cult is out in force telling everyone not to worry because this is all part of the plan. Ever since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was slammed by Trump’s Justice Department with a mountain of espionage charges carrying a possible sentence of 175 years in prison, QAnon acolytes have been showing up in my social media mentions with screenshots of a new post from the mysterious 8chan anon assuring us all that Assange is actually being protected by Trump.

The post reads in the typical QAnon cryptic word salad style that its adherents often annoyingly imitate when normal people try to engage them in an adult conversation

If you’re one of those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the QAnon phenomenon, in October of 2017 odd posts began appearing on the anonymous message board 4chan, which is wildly popular with trolls, incels and racists. Those posts ceased appearing on 4chan and moved to a related site, 8chan, where they continue appearing to this day. The poster purports to have insider knowledge of a secret, silent and invisible war that President Trump has been waging against the Deep State with the help of the US military and various “white hats” within the US government, and shares snippets about this war with 8chan users in extremely vague and garbled posts.

Here are three reasons you can be absolutely, 100 percent certain that it’s bullshit:

  1. It always, always, always excuses Trump’s facilitation of evil deep state agendas.

I don’t generally use the term “deep state” anymore, mainly because its proper meaning has been distorted by right-wingers and Qultists to mean basically “Democrats and Never-Trumpers”, and by mainstream liberals to mean something like “a right-wing conspiracy theory about a secretive cabal of Jews who rule the world”. But originally the term simply referred to a concept used for political analysis to describe the undeniable fact that plutocrats and intelligence/defense agencies tend to form relationships with each other in a way that persists amid the comings and goings of the official elected government.

This alliance has certain agendas that it has consistently pushed for, many of them involving the advancement of wars which financially benefit the plutocrats and which secure geostrategic dominance for the intelligence/defence agencies. Trump has been advancing these longstanding agendas with his administration’s regime change interventionism against Iran and Venezuela, world-threatening new cold war escalations against Russia, military expansionism, continuing and expanding of all of Bushbama’s warmongering and Orwellian surveillance programs, the campaign to destroy WikiLeaks and imprison Julian Assange for life, and many other actions which benefit the agenda of global hegemony and the profit margins of war plutocrats.

Every single time Trump advances one of these depraved agendas and I speak out against it, I begin getting angry social media responses from QAnon cultists telling me to calm down and relax, that this is all part of the plan, and that Trump is actually doing the exact opposite of what he appears to be doing. And when I say “every single time”, I mean exactly that, without a single, solitary exception.

QAnon cultists do this every single time because they have been propagandized into doing so, both by the 8chan anon they follow and by the herd mentality of the community that it has fostered. They begin with the baseless premise that Trump is a righteous warrior against corruption, conclude that everything he does must therefore be a righteous maneuver against Deep State corruption, then apply their hive mind to coming up with reasons to believe this. Then they show up in my mentions telling me I’m crazy for believing Trump is doing the things that he is very plainly and obviously doing.

You don’t need to take my word for this. As of this writing right now you can go to the Twitter search bar and type in the words “Assange” and “QAnon” and you’ll get a bunch of posts explaining that Assange is “under protection”, and that imprisoning a longtime target of the CIA and the Pentagon is actually a devastating blow to the Deep State. You can continue to repeat this exact same experiment every single time Trump advances a disgusting warmongering deep state agenda, and every single time you’ll get the exact same results.

This to me is reason enough to be absolutely certain that QAnon and the credulous cult which has sprouted up around it is crap. US presidents are reliably corrupt warmongers and CIA cronies, so the current president acting like one is not surprising or extraordinary. Trying to justify a US president doing the sort of thing that all US presidents always do as a total deviation from the norm for US presidents would be a ridiculous thing to do even one time. Doing it every single time is fully discrediting.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you could maybe be excused if you mistook it for a rabbit after one quick glance, but continuing to stare directly at a duck and saying “Yeah that’s definitely a rabbit, look at the long ears” over an extended period of time would mean you’re a bullshitter.

  1. They always, always, always refuse to prove the validity of their position.

A year ago I tweeted out that I was thinking of writing an article about QAnon and asked its adherents for their very best links/screenshots proving its legitimacy. Go ahead and have a read of the kinds of responses I got by clicking this hyperlink if you’re curious. No one came remotely close to providing anything like the evidence I’d asked for, with most responses falling along the lines of “You kind of have to just immerse yourself in it over an extended period of time and marinate in it until you believe,” which is the same sort of response you’ll get if you ask a religious proselytizer to prove the legitimacy of their religion. I shared the thread again yesterday and got the same response, with one QAnon promoter with a fairly large following telling me, “No amount of evidence can be seen by one choosing to stay blind.”

This is completely different from standard conspiracy theories. If you ask a 9/11 truther to prove the legitimacy of their position, they’ll instantly be able to produce clear and concise videos and articles for you, and if they’ve actually done their homework they’ll be able to regale you with information about physics, forensics, architecture, chemistry, and plot holes in the official narrative. If you ask someone who’s got theories about the JFK assassination you’ll get a comparable amount of lucidity. Ask a QAnon cultist for the same level of intellectual transparency and you’ll get a bunch of mealy-mouthed gibberish which will quickly turn into accusations that you are lazy for refusing to do your own research if you keep pressing.

This is because there is no actual, tangible factual basis for the belief system which has sprouted up around QAnon. It begins, just like any other religion, as a premise of faith, and then the adherents to that faith pool their intellectual resources into the task of finding reasons to legitimize that premise. They begin with the premise that Trump is a good and noble savior who is uprooting the source of all of America’s problems with strategic maneuvers which are so brilliant that they look like the exact opposite of what they are, then they let confirmation bias and other cognitive biases do the rest of the work for them.

Again, you don’t need to take my word for this; you can repeat this experiment for yourself. Whenever you encounter a QAnon adherent, either by chance or by seeking them out deliberately, simply ask them to prove the legitimacy of their position. You might get links to sources which attempt to prove that QAnon is connected to the Trump administration (as though that would somehow counter the idea that it’s a pro-Trump propaganda construct), you might get links to the mountain of cryptic word salads that QAnon has posted and told to comb through them yourself, but you won’t ever get anything resembling an attempt to clearly prove that QAnon is the thing that it purports to be. If you keep pushing you’ll encounter nothing but anger as you run into a wall of cognitive dissonance.

This proves that QAnon is not even a proper conspiracy theory, as we’ve come to understand that term. Conspiracy theories, per definition, consist of some sort of concrete theory. QAnon, like Russiagate, consists of nothing other than something that people desperately want to believe and then seek out excuses which allow them to feel comfortable believing it. This makes it far more akin to a religion or a cult than a conspiracy theory.

If QAnon were legitimate, it would be easy for its followers to demonstrate that legitimacy in a clear and simple way. They never can.

  1. It’s made many bogus claims and inaccurate predictions.

I’m putting this one last instead of first because the appeal of QAnon has very little to do with facts and evidence; if you show these to a Q cultist they’ll typically just say “Oh Q didn’t really mean that” or “That one wasn’t the real Q” or even “Disinformation is necessary” (a John Bolton doctrine which QAnon itself has proclaimed on multiple occasions), but for anyone who’s kind of on the fence about the whole thing you should be aware that the QAnon phenomenon has been rife with demonstrable inaccuracies. Personally I prefer to focus on the behaviors of the QAnon cultists themselves, since they’re the ones interpreting the cryptic word salads and circulating those interpretations online. They behave as cheerleaders for their government’s most depraved agendas; it doesn’t really matter what they are being told to believe to get them to behave that way.

This recent Reddit post on r/conspiracy breaks down many of the bogus claims, inaccurate predictions and deceitful manipulations that the QAnon construct has made since its inception. They include claiming in October 2017 that Hillary Clinton had been arrested and to expect mass rioting in response, posting and then deleting a fake Podesta email, posting multiple photoshopped images as though they were real, posting a bogus photo suggesting that the operator of the account was on Airforce One, and posting bogus “codes” that are demonstrably nothing other than gibberish.

I don’t claim to know everything about this QAnon thing or who exactly is behind it, but these three points I just outlined in my opinion kill all doubt that it’s not what it purports to be. For anyone looking at them with intellectual honesty rather than the same way a creationist or cult member might look at something which challenges their faith, anyway.

It is not good that a vocal and enthusiastic part of Trump’s largely anti-interventionist, pro-WikiLeaks base has been propagandized into consistently stumping for longtime agendas of the CIA and the Pentagon. Someone’s benefiting from this, and it isn’t you.

 

________________________

 

Comment: In a present world where wishful thinking and over-ripe imaginations are far in excess of accuracy and truthfulness, historical incidents are almost always the victim of the wishful thinker or the creative liar.

          This is by no means a modern phenomenon as witness the strange and contradictory passages in the New Testament or in later histories that discussed the reality of dragons being seen in the sky, or in the water, and angels floating above battlefields. The desperation of some people who suffer from futile lives and chronic disappointments to have some special information with which to gain self-importance presents a rich soil in which to grow fantasies and delusional material.

          The credulous public, ever frantic for more and increasingly thrilling, and invented, conspiracies to nurture their small egos, will get their hands on these falsities, water and fertilize them and send them around to others with their own little invented additions.

          In the end, the criminal stupidity is effectively masked by the created images and management and government can prepare for the next disinformation campaign.

          Those who believe in mysterious conspiracies ought to recognize that they have become unknowing parts of a real conspiracy, the conspiracy of obfuscation, lies and official disinformation.

        
How William Barr is weaponizing the Justice Department to help Trump win
Former DOJ officials spoke about the attorney general’s efforts to undermine voting and his potential to unleash an “October surprise.”
August 29, 2020
by Peter Stone
The Intercept

On August 13,a day after President Donald Trump again charged that Democrats’ efforts to expand mail-in voting due to the pandemic will create “the greatest rigged election in history,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr too made unfounded and conspiratorial-sounding claims. Barr told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Democrats’ drive seeking to expand mail-in voting could raise “serious questions about the integrity of the election,” were “grossly irresponsible,” and “reckless.”

That was hardly the first time they seemed to agree. In a July House Judiciary hearing and in a June interview with Fox News, Barr joined Trump in his monthslong and spurious attacks on voting by mail. He told Fox that voting by mail “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud,” adding, without evidence, that “right now a foreign country could print tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots.”

“Barr has admitted he has no evidence of widespread mail-voting fraud,” former federal prosecutor and former senior official at Homeland Security Paul Rosenzweig told me. “All he is doing is trying, unsuccessfully, to give Trump a basis for challenging the election. This is not the job of the Attorney General.”

Barr has violated numerous fundamental norms as attorney general, using his sweeping powers to carry out actions and judgments that are politically beneficial to the president’s reelection campaign. Many former Justice Department officials say Barr’s actions and public statements are increasingly aimed at helping Trump’s political interests and friends, leading to an unprecedented politicization of the department by the nation’s top law enforcement officer. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Barr’s actions and views for this story.

Now, with under 70 days to the presidential election, the actions that pose the most consequential harm are those that threaten a free and fair election — especially Barr’s work to undermine, rather than uphold, voting rights and to publicly accuse Trump’s enemies.

“Barr has utterly and completely trashed the norm of DOJ separation from politics,” Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general who served in the George H.W. Bush administration just prior to Barr’s first stint as AG, told me. “For the last several months, Barr has been fully engaged in using the tools of the Justice Department primarily for the purpose of advancing the president’s election prospects.”

Voter Suppression

Barr’s attacks on mail-in voting seem to be well-choreographed with the president. “It has been repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare, yet Barr has continued to spew Trump’s false claim that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud,” Gerry Hebert, who spent 21 years working in the DOJ on voting rights issues, told me.

Hebert also stressed that Barr’s Justice Department has failed to protect voting rights. “There have been literally dozens of lawsuits all over the country to protect voting rights during the pandemic, so that voters don’t have to choose between voting and putting their health at risk. The Barr DOJ hasn’t yet weighed in on any of those cases.”

William Barr Has Turned the Justice Department Into a Law Firm With One Client: Donald Trump

Specifically, the Justice Department has failed to pursue pending court cases that seek to stop discriminatory voting practices, including ones that happened in 2018, 2019, and 2020, and these or similar cases could come up before November, say former DOJ lawyers. It has abstained from taking legal action in cases of voter purges that occurred in Georgia and Ohio in both 2018 and 2019. Likewise, the DOJ has been missing in action in cases involving polling place reductions during this year’s primaries in Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Georgia. And it has failed to take action in cases stemming from too few — or error-prone — voting machines in minority neighborhoods.

In the past, attorneys general have used their powers to send personnel to monitor polling sites to ensure there are no voting irregularities involving civil rights abuses; the Department of Justice did this in 2016. Critics fear now that Barr may heed Trump’s suggestions last week — when he railed, without evidence, that he could only lose due to a “rigged” election by Democrats and called for deploying law enforcement personnel — and send monitors who would intimidate voters, suppressing the overall vote

“It has been repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare, yet Barr has continued to spew Trump’s false claim that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud.”

“We will have to see whether Barr is prepared to implement what Trump wants, which appears to be harnessing law enforcement agencies to participate in an aggressive voter suppression effort,” former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich told me. “Neither Trump nor Barr has any legal authority over sheriffs, police departments, or state AGs, but Trump has now green-lighted rogue law enforcement elements around the country to undertake such efforts as voter suppression vigilantes. An attorney general who believed in the rule of law and democracy would come out four-square against such tactics.”

What’s more, Barr’s DOJ may wind up defending the U.S. Postal Service against lawsuits that were filed in mid-August by several state attorneys general challenging cutbacks in services that have been made in recent months that threaten to hurt the ability of the USPS to handle the greatly expanded volume of mail-in ballots expected this year. Barr’s DOJ could also back lawsuits by the Republican National Committee that have been filed in a few swing states, including Pennsylvania and Nevada, to curb mail-in voting plans by the states.

Barr’s commitment to ensuring election integrity became more suspect when the attorney general was asked at the House Judiciary hearing if the president could legally delay the election. Barr did not simply answer no but left the door open by replying evasively that “I’ve never been asked that question before” and “I’ve never looked into that.”

“Even a first-year law student would know the answer to that question,” Hebert quipped.

An October Surprise

Barr may be on the verge of deploying another unusual and norm-busting tactic. In May 2019, Barr launched an inquiry when he tapped Connecticut federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate the origins of how FBI and CIA officials in 2016 began “Operation Crossfire” looking at Kremlin meddling in the elections and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

The Durham inquiry was also spurred by Trump’s disdain for special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year probe that had just concluded that Russia interfered in 2016 in “sweeping and systematic” ways to help Trump win — a verdict that Trump has used to create a dark picture of a “deep state” of foes seeking to destroy his presidency. Now, critics fear that Barr will try to release a report on Durham’s probe this fall that Barr can spin to placate Trump — as the AG did by downplaying key parts of the Mueller report — fueling a campaign attack against Democrats. In his recent judiciary testimony, Barr was pressed on if and when a report on Durham might be released: Barr flatly declined to rule out its release prior to the elections, despite a Justice Department tradition of not making public any information that could sway an election 60 to 90 days before. “Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy,” he told the Judiciary Committee about his position.

“We’re not going to do anything for the purpose of affecting the election, but we’re trying to get some things done before the election.”

Barr has also made several public comments suggesting that the Durham probe has found some damaging and surprising new information. In his July House testimony, Barr called the FBI probe of possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow “bogus” and in a Fox news interview, he charged the FBI with trying to “sabotage the presidency.” Barr’s stream of comments fit with his attempts to undercut the Mueller report and bolster Trump’s barrage of charges that the Russia investigations were a “hoax,” while touting what Durham in tandem with Barr is pursuing.

“Given his past misrepresentations of the Mueller report, the American people should look very carefully and very skeptically at absolutely anything Barr announces this year,” Justin Levitt, a former DOJ prosecutor who now is a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told me. Barr could take Durham’s findings and spin them as well, to make them seem more damning of the early Russia probes by the FBI and CIA, say former DOJ officials.

“Barr’s active promotion of Durham’s investigation has already discredited it in the eyes of many,” Bromwich told The Intercept. “Any criminal charges or public report released close in time to the election — generally defined as within 60 days — would be viewed with great skepticism.”

Other former DOJ officials went farther. “It seems inevitable that Barr will attempt to unleash an October surprise through the Durham investigation,” Rosenzweig, the former prosecutor, told me.

But Trump’s hopes of big charges before the election seem unlikely, say former DOJ officials, who note that a recent 1,000-page bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee went further than Mueller in providing significant new evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians; according to the report, Konstantin Kilimnik, an active Kremlin military intelligence officer had extensive contacts with Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was convicted on eight counts of financial and tax crimes.

Barr has said that Durham, with whom he has reportedly worked closely (including making a trip to Italy last year to do interviews), is making progress and seems intent on digging into other possible misconduct involving FBI and CIA officials; ex-CIA Director John Brennan was reportedly interviewed this month for eight hours but has been told he’s not a target.

On August 12, Barr coyly told conservative talk-radio commentator Buck Sexton that “we’re not going to do anything for the purpose of affecting the election, but we’re trying to get some things done before the election.”

The next day, Trump told Fox News that “Bill Barr has the chance to be the greatest of all time. But if he wants to be politically correct, he’ll be just another guy.” And then, on August 14, it was announced that an ex-FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who was involved in one part of the 2016 inquiry would plead guilty to a charge of falsifying a document. Clinesmith formally entered his plea the following week.

Law and Order

Finally, as Trump’s law-and-order mantra has become a central campaign motif, Barr’s crackdown on largely peaceful protests in D.C., and authorizing federal agents to help fight violent crime in several cities run by Democrats look like ominous campaign ploys and possible harbingers of what’s ahead before November. Dubbed “Operation Legend,” the program began in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 8 and was soon after launched in eight other cities run by Democrats including Chicago; Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Cleveland; and Detroit, ostensibly to reduce violent crime with a key focus on gun violence.

Some former DOJ officials were taken aback last month when in an unorthodox move for an attorney general, Barr joined Trump at the White House for a campaign-style announcement about Operation Legend’s expansion to several cities run by Democrats, including Chicago. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot dubbed the event a “political stunt.”

Barr’s leading role in Operation Legend at times overlaps — and seems to be inspired by — a conspiratorial, far-right, and dystopian vision of urban chaos he has linked to Black Lives Matter protests, which the attorney general alleged in a Fox interview this month with Mark Levin. Barr labeled some Black Lives Matter protesters “bolsheviks” engaged in “urban guerrilla warfare,” driven by a “lust for power.”

Ex-prosecutor Rosenzweig was stunned by Barr’s comments to Levin. “They’re flat-out racist, dogwhistle, white supremacist nonsense,” he told me.

As criticism of Operation Legend mounted, Barr held a press briefing on August 19 in Kansas City to trumpet some 1,500 arrests in nine cities to date, including about 217 facing federal charges, according to Barr. Barr’s explanation for why there’s been a recent uptick in violent crime provided new signs that the program has a distinctly political edge: At his briefing, Barr cited a few possible causes such as “pent-up aggression” due to local and state coronavirus quarantine orders, the “defund the police” movement, and “premature release of violent criminals by the courts” during the pandemic.

Just where the DOJ may opt to expand the program before the election isn’t clear, but some former Justice Department lawyers fret that it will be increasingly aimed at cities in swing states.

What’s more, former DOJ officials note that it’s highly unusual for the feds to impose their will in cities and states without being invited initially, which has been the case so far in most of the urban areas targeted by Operation Legend — a trend that suggests just how political the DOJ campaign has been.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz in late July announced an inquiry that will examine how federal law enforcement, under Barr’s general direction, forcefully removed protesters from the area near Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., right before Trump’s photo-op holding a Bible upside down at a nearby church. But the results of that inquiry are likely to take months, if not years.

“Barr can’t achieve his mission of creating an unrestrained president if Trump isn’t reelected.”

“Barr has proven his loyalty to the president at any cost,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House Judiciary panel that grilled Barr in July, told The Intercept. “He’s shown a willingness to protect the president’s friends and to punish his enemies” — including dropping the DOJ’s case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, despite his twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about sanction talks he had with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office. Barr also intervened to suggest a lesser punishment for Trump’s long-time friend Roger Stone who was convicted on seven counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering; but Trump commuted his three-year prison sentence this summer to keep Stone out of jail.

Swalwell noted that among those Barr punished was Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who Barr, in tandem with Trump, suddenly forced out in June on dubious grounds. Berman’s office has been investigating a few high-profile cases involving Trump allies, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The Southern District has also been involved in a long-running probe into Trump’s inaugural funding, and it handled the successful prosecution of one-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who implicated Trump in campaign finance violations involving hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her in 2016 from discussing their affair years earlier.

Ayer, who has known Barr for almost four decades, stressed that Barr’s litany of actions to help Trump’s political agenda seem rooted in Barr’s long-standing advocacy of expanding presidential powers. “Barr has been committed for a very long time to a concept of the presidency that is virtually all-powerful,” Ayer told me last year. In many ways, Barr’s concept of an all-powerful presidency seems to fit well with Trump’s own oft-expressed absolutist view of his powers, Ayer added. “Barr can’t achieve his mission of creating an unrestrained president if Trump isn’t reelected.”

 

 

Driven to Abstraction: the inside story of a $60m art forgery hoax

For 15 years, one of New York’s most prestigious art galleries sold forged paintings – a new film explores how the art world fell for it

August 28, 2020

by Adrian Horton

The Guardian

In November 2011, the arthouse Knoedler & Company – an Upper East Side mainstay and one of modern art’s most trusted and elite shops – shuttered in the middle of a show. The venerable gallery, founded in 1846, had weathered the civil war, two global conflicts, bankruptcy, the expansion of the American art market, purchase by the actor Armie Hammer’s great-grandfather, and 9/11. But in the end, it mysteriously ceased operations with little more than an email announcement.

The closure sent shock waves through the fine art establishment, a notoriously insular and opaque world, but in the days and months that followed, a trickle of press leaks revealed the extent of the damage: for 15 years, Knoedler had procured and sold at least 40 fraudulent paintings – an astounding $60m of forged work attributed to such modern American masters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. It was, according to Driven to Abstraction, a new documentary on the scandal, “the greatest forgery hoax ever of modern American art”.

The scandal was all the more baffling given the status of the offending gallery – if you worked with Knoedler and its esteemed president, Ann Freedman, “you didn’t look at a painting and wonder whether it was a fake,” Daria Price, the film’s director, told the Guardian. “You just assumed, if it was a Knoedler, that it wasn’t [fake]. That was the atmosphere.” Driven to Abstraction explains, mostly through interviews with journalists, art observers, verification experts and attorneys, how such an esteemed gallery could steer so far awry, and for so long.

At the heart of a scandal was a remarkably homespun, given the status and moneyed anonymity of the fine art world, scheme to pass forgeries off as lost works by masters of abstract expressionism, run primarily by a Long Island woman named Glafira Rosales. An associate of Freedman’s since the gallery president took over Knoedler in 1994, Rosales was virtually unknown to the rest of the fine art dealers; it is unclear how she won over Freedman’s trust, but through a series of constantly shifting, flimsy stories, Rosales convinced Freedman of the existence of a mysterious, anonymous client – Mr X and his son, Mr X Jr, neither of whom were real. The Xs were supposedly looking to sell a trove of inherited treasures without documented provenance – they were gifts, clients were told, among other lies – which Rosales “discovered” over the course of 15 years from 1994 onward.

In truth, the works were painted in Queens by a Chinese immigrant and preternatural imitator named Pei-Shen Qian, with the alleged help of Rosales’s boyfriend, José Carlos Bergantiños Díaz, and his brother Jesús, using artificial ageing techniques such as staining the canvas with teabags to make it appear older. (Qian, who did not participate in the film, allegedly made just $5,000 per painting, and has maintained he didn’t know his paintings were being sold as genuine works of famous artists, and fled to China; the Bergantiños Díaz brothers fled to Spain; Rosales pleaded guilty to various charges, including tax evasion and wire fraud, in 2013).

The scheme outlined in Driven to Abstraction, which plays out in rhythm with the 2016 federal racketeering trial for $25m in damages levied against Knoedler by a disgruntled former client, is startlingly wide-reaching and brazen. Forged paintings on display in the gallery and private homes for years; basic questions about paper trails, origins and simple fallacies (why was a signature misspelled “Pollok”? How were some paintings crafted with materials unavailable at the time they were supposedly made?) went unanswered or ignored. The slow drip of forgeries, it was revealed, totaled an astounding $60m – and that’s just the known works.

The fraud was perpetuated, in part, by the fine art world’s fixation with anonymity and penchant for discretion; Price referenced an old saying that after drugs and guns, the art trade is the most unregulated in the world. “This is not accidental lack of transparency; this is the way they like it,” said Price. “The collectors like to be anonymous, the buyers like to be anonymous, the prices are anonymous … it all creates a world where this could happen.”

That secretiveness, and the embarrassment of the whole affair, made finding people directly involved in the case willing to speak on camera difficult. “The art world is so scared of itself,” Price said. “I always knew it was going to be a difficult film to make, because of the very secrecy that allowed the hoax to go on so long was systemic. I knew I would run up against people who just wouldn’t talk.”

Still, she said, it was surprising how people even tangentially related to the case expressed hesitation on speaking about it. “Just because they were dealers, or had to do with art fairs, just because it was such a tainted thing, there would be people who said ‘I think it’s great you’re making a film, but I can’t be in it,’” Price said.

It’s not that nobody ever saw the paintings, since several of the forged paintings showed at Armory art shows, “and it’s not even that nobody was ever suspicious,” Price added. It’s that the true extent of the fraud passed for years under the cover of a lack of inquiry. “If all the dealers and all the experts had all talked to each other and shared their feelings, maybe it would’ve been different,” said Price. “But you don’t talk about it.”

Freedman, who also did not participate in the film, vouched for the works’ authenticity until the last moment; she later claimed in an interview with New York Magazine that she was Rosales’s “central victim”, though it remains unclear how much of the fraud she knew about, and when. For the shuttered Knoedler & Company, the embarrassment caused by the scandal was protracted and costly; it took eight years for the 10th and final forgery lawsuit against the gallery to be settled in August 2019, the final chapter in the hoax saga.

Though Driven to Abstraction sticks strictly to the murky world of fine art dealing in the US, Price sees lessons in the film beyond the niche market of abstract expressionist paintings; the forgery scheme evinces what can happen, she said, in worlds predicated on anonymity, where passion and prestige can fluidly override doubt or even common sense – “the less one is entitled to tell all, the more vulnerable it is to abuses.”

Driven to Abstraction is not “getting at one final truth that wraps up neatly, but a way of telling how this evolved, how something like this could happen,” she said. “It’s not just about art – it’s about telling tall tales, and why it works.”

Driven to Abstraction is out to rent digitally in the US with a UK date yet to be announced.

The Anatomy of a Fraud

by Gregory Douglas

On May 23, 1977, a Basilisk Press of Santa Clara, California made a mass mailing. The yellow envelope sported a drawing of the mythological Basilisk, a creature described in the literature of the Middle Ages as being half serpent and half rooster whose very glance could kill.

Inside was a letter from the Press to prospective customers advertising a book that they were in the process of publishing. This was Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by one Friederich Hasek. The brochure spoke of “deliberate fakery” in the world of fine art and discussed a series of books on the subject of massive art fraud that the Press was in the process of publishing.

The Rodin book ad strongly alleged that “Rodin hired students to prepare works he took credit for” and “Rodin works were being faked in the artist’s lifetime and with his consent.” More interesting to some was the statement that preceded these that spoke of, “…the production of fake bronzes, outlining in detail how bronzes are produced and how to detect recent forgeries by a series of simple measurements.”

Other books the Press claimed were to be part of their new series were an additional eighteen titles covering such diverse topics as the bronzes of Remington, Georgian silver, ancient Greek and Roman coins, counterfeit Japanese swords, pre-Colombian and Incan artifacts and a number of other subjects that were guaranteed to give a terrible case of spastic colon to the majority of the major art galleries and auction houses.

It is the general, and very sensible, attitude on the part of individuals and organizations that might be severely damaged by such publications, to say absolutely nothing about a work that might well seriously damage their business and professional reputations, and pray that either the publisher will go bankrupt after the first book or be run over by a drunken truck driver while on the way to the bank.

Art salesmen thrive on publicity but only of their own generating.

However, in the case of the Basilisk mailing, one of the seeds fell into fertile ground and produced a mini-scandal which was no doubt very pleasing to someone but certainly not to persons who either bought or sold the works of Auguste Rodin.

One of these mailers apparently got into the hands of one Albert Edward Elsen, a local art expert, who shortly thereafter appeared at the address of the Basilisk Press given on the envelope. It was 2275 Park Avenue in Santa Clara and it housed a Western Union office, telephone answering service and mail drop firm.

There was no sign anywhere on the building to indicate that the Press was engaged in business there.

In spite of this, Elsen, an overweight and florid man with a thick, graying mustache, had a highly vocal and very intemperate heated exchange with the manager of the mail service, demanding at full voice to know where the owners of the press lived. When told that this information was not available, he became even more agitated and was eventually asked to leave the premises before the police had to be summoned.

In August of 1978, George Schattle, an industrial designer of Menlo Park, California, a suburb of San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the County of Santa Clara, California.

The suit charged one Albert Edward Elsen, a professor of art history at the prestigious Stanford University and a published specialist on the works of French Impressionist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, with libel, defamation, interference with advantageous contractual rights and invasion of privacy.

Mr. Schattle requested $3.75 million in punitive and exemplary damages from the savant-cum-art expert.

Most of the issues raised in this case relate directly to the marketing of what is sometimes called ‘fine art’ and although Schattle vs. Elsen achieved a very private, out-of-court settlement, the facts remain a matter of record and highlight what appears to be certain questionable but long-accepted practices in the merchandising of fine art.

Schattle’s claim was that on August 3, 1978, Professor Albert Edward Elsen had written a completely unsolicited letter on his official Stanford University letterhead to one Jerry Jensen, a television anchorman with the San Francisco-based KGO-TV.

Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins, attached this letter to the suit as Exhibit A and as it is public record, significant portions of it are quoted here:

“Dear Mr. Jenson (sic)

“From Gay Morris, who writes on art for the Palo Alto Times, and who has been in touch with the Basilisk Press people, I gather you have a copy of a manuscript titles, ‘Rodin: Portrait of a Fraud’ (sic) authored by Frederich Hasek. I am also given to understand that you have a long time interest in art frauds and that your researches coincide with the findings in this manuscript. Gay Morris was told this on the phone by a M. McGregor who claims to be one of a group of businessmen who have bought manuscripts from Hasek.”

There is a reference to someone Elsen suspects might have written the manuscript, couched in savage, and badly written, derogatory terms and the letter continues:

“For the past three years he and a George Schattle of Menlo Park have been trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four reputedly unique Rodin sculptures, supposedly obtained by an American army officer during the second world war (sic) from Goering’s art collection, to which they had come after the Wehrmacht moved into Poland. These sculptures come in a Wehrmacht crate and these men have a raft of documentation testifying to the authenticity of the Wehrmacht markings–but not a scintilla of evidence on that of the sculptures. The sculptures are outright fakes. For three years, and on one occasion working with the police, I have thwarted the sale of these sculptures.”

Elsen goes on to claim that over the years, Schattle and others have tried to slander him, Stanford University, “one of our principle (sic) donors,” and even the government of France! He continues on to state that the alleged author of the manuscript also “libels Rodin (Rodin never ‘condoned fakes’ in his lifetime, as the Basilisk Press advertised in its flyer on the book.)”

Elsen was undoubtedly unaware that the dead cannot be libeled.

The balance of this rather extraordinary outburst sets forth the writer’s academic and literary credentials (and the latter are not especially bolstered by a mass of grammatical errata) and claims that he is the world’s “foremost expert on Rodin”, finally asking Jensen, in a burst of petulant outrage, “Why, in fact, are you given the manuscript to read but not me?”

He concludes with a demand to see the manuscript in Mr. Jensen’s possession and have the pleasure of his company through a personal visit when Professor Elsen can personally discuss the “truth and the reputation of a great artist.”

By one means or another, never made clear by any of the parties to the suit, this letter came into the possession of the unfortunate Mr. Schattle who then referred it to an attorney.

Prior to the filing of this suit, Mr. Schattle’s attorney, Charles Hawkins of San Jose, wrote on May 25, 1978, to Stanford President Richard Lyman.

“Dear President Lyman

“Please be advised that this office represents Mr. George Schattle in connection with pending litigation involving the activities of Professor Albert Elsen.

“Mr. Schattle is the owner of four (4) pieces of Rodin sculpture which he believes to be authentic. Mr. Elsen has examined two of these pieces and for subjective reasons best known to him, Mr. Elsen has formed the opinion that said pieces are not genuine. Another noted art expert has expressed a contrary view.

“Had Mr. Elsen let this matter rest, there would have been no significant problem. However, for unexplained reasons, Mr. Elsen has personally undertaken a campaign to discredit and damage Mr. Schattle and to destroy the value of Mr. Schattle’s sculptures.

“I am enclosing herewith a copy of Mr. Elsen’s unsolicited letter of Aug 3, 1977 addressed to Mr. Jerry Jensen of Channel 7 news. You will note that the letter is on Stanford University stationery and makes reference to Mr. Elsen’s position at Stanford University. This letter is libelous on its face in that it accuses Mr. Schattle of ‘trying to con unsuspecting businessmen into buying four unique Rodin sculptures….’ Other references in the letter are equally as damaging and distasteful.

“Furthermore, Mr. Elsen admits that he has thwarted the sale of my client’s sculptures and it has come to my attention that Mr. Elsen has contacted the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the District Attorney of Santa Clara County, and the Palo Alto Police Department in an effort to have unfounded criminal charges files against Mr. Schattle. Elsen has engaged in other activities which are equally as bizarre and damaging to my client’s reputation and financial interests, but it would serve no purpose to detail such activity in this letter. Suffice it to say that this office is in the process of preparing a complaint against Mr. Elsen on behalf of Mr. Schattle to recover damages resulting from Mr. Elsen’s conduct.

“The purpose of this letter is to determine whether or not Stanford University should be included as a party defendant in this matter. Mr. Elsen’s libelous letter was written on Stanford University stationery and he has apparently represented himself to the news media and the police authorities as speaking on behalf of the University. If in fact Stanford University has authorized, ratified, or affirmed Mr. Elsen’s conduct in this matter I will, of course, have no choice but to name the University as a party defendant. If Mr. Elsen was acting as an individual without the authority of the University I would refrain from naming Stanford as a party to this litigation.

“Therefore, I would appreciate hearing from your representative in the immediate future concerning the posture of the University in this matter. If I do not hear anything from you within two weeks of the date of this letter, I shall have no choice other than to proceed with the litigation with the University as a party defendant. I hope that you would give this matter your immediate attention and I am looking forward to hearing from your representative in this regard.”

John J. Schwartz, University Counsel, with a copy to Albert Elsen, sent Stanford’s response on June 5, 1978.

“Dear Mr. Hawkins:

“I am responding to your letter of May 25, 1978 to President Lyman. In answer to your question, please be advised that Stanford University has not authorized, ratified or affirmed the action to which you refer.”

The lawsuit against Elsen, duly amended, was filed on December 22, 1978.

An initial impression would certainly be that this litigation appears to be based on a sharp difference of subjective opinion between a highly aggressive, opinionated expert with very little self-control on the one hand and another individual who is in possession of art work that the published expert believes to unoriginal.

Both the letter and the actions of Elsen could well indicate that the art professor had become so outraged at the thought of fakes being marketed that his zeal overcame whatever common sense he might possess, causing him to overreact to the point where provable and actionable indiscretions were committed.

On the other hand, the violence and apparent malice of Elsen’s reaction is certainly out of character for the occupant of the Walter A. Haas Chair of Art History at a prestigious and wealthy university.

Sedate institutions of higher learning do not, as a rule, condone members of their faculty engaging in distasteful public vendettas and in this case, quickly and officially distanced themselves from the specter of an ugly lawsuit with a potential for negative publicity for both the institution and one of its more prominent and tenured staff members.

Albert Elsen was not a stranger to media attention and had been presenting himself with vigor in the local press for some time prior to the Schattle suit. He was very evidently not the sort of individual to keep his opinions, correct or otherwise, to himself.

Albert Edward Elsen was born in New York City in 1927 and obtained his PhD at Columbia University in 1955. From 1952 to 1958, he was associate professor of art at Carleton College in Minnesota, later an associate professor at Indiana University from 1958 to 1962 and a full professor from 1963 to 1968. Elsen had been engaged by Stanford as a professor of art history in 1968.

Among his publication credits are two works that deal specifically with the works of Auguste Rodin: Rodin’s Gates of Hell in 1960 and Rodin in 1963.

In February of 1974, the San Francisco Bay Area press carried several stories about a large gift of Rodin works to Stanford University by one B. Gerald Cantor, a Los Angeles investment banker.

As reported, the initial gift consisted of an incredible 88 pieces of Rodin’s work and this largess was increased by an additional seventy more Rodin sculptures from the cultivated and benevolent banker. The press stories also mentioned that Cantor was donating a large sum of cash to Stanford to establish a ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden.’

Elsen was quoted very often in print as saying that all of these pieces had been made during Rodin’s lifetime, the last one completed “a few months before Rodin’s death in 1917.”

Nearly all of the pieces were bronzes and all, without exception, bore the signature ‘A. Rodin’ and most noteworthy, the French foundry marking, ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris.’

Elsen and Cantor both stated repeatedly to the press that this impressive collection was valued at $3 million, five hundred thousand at current art market prices.

Lengthy, well-illustrated local press coverage contained statements by Elsen about the importance of this huge collection of original Rodin works and all of these articles were graced with large photographs of Elsen himself in proximity to the Cantor gifts.

As Mr. Cantor, the generous benefactor, had also included a cash bequest of over $ 200 thousand so that the University could create the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden,’ University publications produced articles lauding Mr. Cantor’s generosity and vision. Pictures accompanying the Stanford articles showed the beaming donor standing in proximity to several of his gifts.

Over the next three years, relative quiet descended on the subject of Rodin and his bronzes, broken only by occasional press releases generated by Elsen and the University about the progress of the ‘Rodin Sculpture Garden’ at Stanford’s aging and earthquake-damaged museum complex.

One article did appear in the San Francisco ‘Chronicle’ that did not laud the brilliance of Albert Edward Elsen, the great generosity of B. Gerald Cantor or the advantages to society in general of a Rodin sculpture garden.

This was a piece in a Sunday supplement by Alfred Frankenstein, also a published art historian, art critic for the ‘Chronicle’, lecturer on art at Stanford University and a personal friend of Albert Elsen.

In this article, Frankenstein made very pointed, though not specific, mention of the “recent appearance of four fake Rodin pieces in the Bay Area.”

Prior to the appearance of this article, on April 6, 1974, George Schattle kept an appointment he had made with Rodin expert Elsen at the latter’s home on Alvarado Row on the Stanford campus. Schattle brought two bronze works of art with him for this meeting.

Several years previously, in 1972, Schattle had bought four crated statues from the Ryan family of Newport Beach, California. One of the family members was acquainted with Schattle’s mother and as Mr. Schattle was a collector of old arms and armor, the Ryans felt that the old statues stored in their garage since the end of the Second World War might be of interest to him because of their connection with Hermann Goering. As they told Schattle at the time, one of their relatives had found the crates on Goering’s abandoned private train in Bavaria at the end of the war.

The custom-built crates and their markings appeared to be entirely authentic but it was not possible for Schattle to determine the value of the statues inside. As Professor Elsen was a well-publicized Bay Area expert and had appeared often, and at length, in the local media on the subject of Rodin, Schattle contacted him for his professional opinion of the pieces and their possible value for reasons of obtaining insurance.

Elsen, according to Schattle’s subsequent deposition, appeared to be very agitated when told that these pieces had once been the property of Hermann Goering and had, according to the labels on the crates, been acquired by the Germans in Poland in 1939. He stated that these pieces had been obviously stolen by the “evil Nazis and had to be returned at once.” Citing his credentials, Elsen offered to act as a disinterested party in returning what he called “Nazi loot.”

Initially, after Elsen had inspected the pieces, there was no talk about them being fake but when Schattle refused to discuss returning them to Polish custody, Elsen, again according to the deposition, became alarmingly angry and said in a loud voice that he now determined that both the pieces were very recent fakes and could not be sold by Schattle without his certainly being arrested for possession of stolen material.

Elsen then renewed his offer to take “protective custody” of the pieces and thereby relieve Schattle of any further possibility of prosecution. Schattle again declined and left Elsen in what he described, and what seems entirely believable considering Elsen’s behavior, as a “very loud, incoherent rage. He shouted at me that if I didn’t immediately give him all of these Rodin pieces, he would have me arrested that night by the FBI.”

It would seem that Albert Edward Elsen did not number an understanding of basic logic among his many virtues because if the pieces were recent fakes, as Elsen alleged, they could not at the same time be loot from 1939 Poland.

The next day, Elsen wrote a long letter to Schattle setting forth his own esthetic and very subjective reasons why all of the pieces were obvious fakes. Since the angry expert had only seen two of the four, this judgment could only be considered as faulty at best.

As example of his polished, professional writing, Elsen’s last sentence read:

“In neither sculpture is the finishing and patina up to Alexis Rudier (sic) standards. I gather from you that the Victor Hugo was repatined. It is a lousy job.”

As Schattle merely wanted approximate values of his pieces for insurance purposes, he then turned to Thomas Carr Howe, former director of the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, an institution that possessed a large collection of original Rodin works that had been purchased prior to the sculptor’s death in 1917.

Mr. Howe had also been deeply involved with the recovery and identification of looted German art following the end of the war in Europe and was able to favorably address not only the originality of the four bronzes but also the distinctive, custom-made wooden crates in which they came.

He duly authenticated the pieces in writing and there the matter remained until the Frankenstein article.

When Mr. Schattle called the editorial department of the ‘Chronicle’ to complain about the implications of fraud contained in the article, he was informed by legal counsel for the paper that since the Schattle name had not appeared in the article nor the pieces specifically identified, no actual damages had occurred and therefore no retraction of any kind would issue.

When later called by Schattle, Alfred Frankenstein refused to speak with him other than to inform him, very emotionally, as Schattle reported in his deposition, “gangs of Nazis were behind this and have been attacking poor Al Elsen.”

Schattle said later when interviewed for this article, that he had visions of very elderly SS men, armed with walkers and canes, throwing refuse on Elsen’s crabgrass-infested front lawn on Alvarado Row.

Subsequent to the publication of the Frankenstein article, Elsen had learned of Howe’s authentication of the questioned pieces and bombarded the retired museum head with numerous, aggressive telephone calls, urging him to withdraw his opinion. Howe eventually did so in a formal letter to Schattle but without questioning their authenticity. He merely withdrew permission to use his name but did not state that the bronzes in question were fake.

In an interview with a member of the media, the notes of the reporter who later spoke with Howe quoted him as saying, “I am too old and I do not want to get into a pissing match with Al Elsen.”

It was shortly after this that the Basilisk Press sent out its momentous flyer.

Subsequently, a Ms. Gay Morris, art critic for the Palo Alto Times, a small paper in the town adjacent to Stanford University, wrote a letter to the Press and was at once contacted by a Mr. MacGregor who claimed to be a director of the firm. It was subsequently disclosed that Ms Morris was a former pupil of the great Rodin expert.

Mr. MacGregor told the art critic a good deal about the book, its author and the new Rodin collection at Stanford. Somehow in the conversation, MacGregor intimated that Mr. Jerry Jensen, a well-known local television personality, was interested in the pieces at Stanford and he implied, according to Elsen’s letter to Jensen, that there was some question about the authenticity of this collection.

This information was obviously given to Elsen by his former pupil and this resulted in the disastrous letter.

As if this imputation of chicanery was not enough of a provocation to Elsen, he then received in the mail from an unknown source, a copy of what was purported to be a news article from an undated and unidentified newspaper.

“And more news of local travelers…. Harvey and Joan Kildrup (he’s head of the Ardeth Grange) have returned from three weeks in Palm Springs with beautiful tans and four unique works of art by famed French artist August (sic) Rodin. A previous owner was the infamous Nazi bigwig Herman Goring (sic). The Kildrups will be entertaining Dr. Frederick Hasek, Rodin authority who arranged the sale, this summer. Also included in their purchases is a painting by Claude Monet which once hung in Goring’s (sic) office.”

Upon receipt of this undated, unidentified and anonymous item, Elsen immediately contacted various local offices of both state and federal law enforcement agencies, including a futile attempt to speak personally with the Attorney General of the United States. Elsen also contacted as many members of the local media as he could find.

Several reporters later indicated in their articles, most of which were written tongue in cheek, that Albert Elsen was verging on hysteria and extremely difficult to understand.

An article appearing in the Palo Alto ‘Times’ of August 19, 1977, disclosed that there was no municipality by the name of Ardeth in the continental United States and when the FBI attempted to locate an Ardeth Grange at Elsen’s repeated insistence, they found that no such farmer’s organization chapter ever existed.

At this point, it could be quite reasonably assumed that Professor Elsen had certainly overreacted to provocation that was transparently false. His verbal explosions could well be ascribed to territorialism for Elsen was, by his own oft-repeated statements, the leading American expert on Rodin, but his injudicious letter to Jensen appeared to be far more concerned with the contents of the alleged forthcoming book on Rodin fakes than in exposing art work he felt was not original.

The basic thrust of the letter, which had obviously been triggered by the anonymous clipping that appeared to be the creative and malicious work of persons still unknown, appeared to be far more of a frantic and insistent demand to know what had been written about the faking of Rodin statues than to address Mr. Schattle’s Polish pieces, though Elsen did manage to attack them with his usual disconnected venom as well.

Perhaps Professor Elsen had been further provoked by Mr. Jensen’s probing into the art circles of the Bay Area.

On June 7 of that year, nearly a month before Elsen wrote his letter, Jensen contacted a number of institutions and experts to verify certain controversial matters that were contained in his copy of the Hasek manuscript.

Jensen’s notes of the contacts contain considerable information not generally in the public domain nor highly unlikely to ever be so.

From a Ms. Cameron of the staff of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, he learned concerning Rodin bronzes that a “Paris factory is churning them out and selling them world wide.”

His next call, according to his notes, was to Ian White of the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco, who, upon being read quotations from the manuscript, said they were “essentially true” but referred Jensen to Elsen for any further comment.

Jensen also contacted fellow Bohemian Club member, Thomas Carr Howe who acknowledged seeing the Schattle Rodins and indicated that they appeared original but that Elsen had disagreed with him. Among other remarks about Elsen, Howe also added that art fakery was “the most lucrative pastime in the world…if you can get away with it.”

Jensen’s last call was to Alfred Frankenstein, a personal friend of both himself and Albert Elsen. Frankenstein had apparently been well-briefed on the subject by Elsen so when Jensen asked him about the allegations in the manuscript, Frankenstein cut him off and claimed that he was well aware of the book and stated that it was written by someone trying to make money by “spreading lies about the art world.” He flatly refused to discuss the matter until Jensen supplied him with a full copy of the manuscript.

Jensen did not do so and the immediate result of his refusal was a quick chilling of his relationship with Frankenstein.

Apparently, there was considerable activity behind the scenes following these calls because Jensen received a personal telephone call on September 15, 1977 from Dr. Wallace Sterling, President Emeritus of Stanford and an old friend. It deserves to be quoted from Jensen’s notes in full.

“Received a call this AM from W. Sterling, former Pres of Stanford. Old Friend. Ster. sez ‘What’s all this about the Rodins?’ When told about findings, sez, ‘Isn’t all of this just a matter of opinion?’ Understood someone is putting out slanderous statements about the originality of the Cantor donation and poss. income tax fraud. ‘I don’t think we need this.’ Rep, tax angle not in question but only originality of Stanford pieces/gifts. St. sez ‘We have chance of becoming Rodin study center…good PI.’ Mentioned letter from Elsen. St. sez ‘Al Elsen is an asset to the University’ but admits’ he beats his own drum too much.’ Asked if Elsen gets fees from outside appraisals, sez ‘We are very liberal in our policy about outside income.’ Also wants complete copy of book, sez ‘Al Frankenstein beating my ear about this one.’ Sez he knows nothing about Schattle but also ‘Al thinks he owns Rodin, lock, stock and barrel and gets upset when challenged. No crime though, just a personality problem.’ Sez ‘Hope we can resolve this without any further media coverage.’

In the event, Dr. Sterling’s apprehensions did not materialize because Mr. Jensen decided against airing any of his findings.

His notes indicated that he felt the story was on the verge of getting out of control and causing acute problems for many people who were personal friends.

He also mentioned that Sterling had offered him the possibility of a lucrative public relations job at the University, obviously to assist him in his decision about any airing of the entire matter.

No further comments from Dr. Sterling, who died shortly afterwards, appear in Jensen’s notes.

When asked about the matter later by a student reporter for the Stanford Daily, Jensen stated that he had no contact with Elsen prior to receiving the letter that led to the lawsuit and concluded his interview of March 1, 1979 by saying:

“I have no idea, in God’s name, what led him to write that letter. He might have heard from other sources that I may have done research that could lead to something embarrassing.”

The question of the originality of the Schattle Rodins is basically a difference of subjective opinion between art experts but the matter of the Hasek manuscript is not as clear cut.

Basilisk Press, which claimed to be bringing forth a book on fake Rodin bronzes as well as the simple technical means by which such fakes could be detected by possible purchasers or even owners, was housed in a commercial building that hosted a telephone answering service and mail drop concern. Investigation has disclosed that Basilisk Press was not licensed to operate in the city or county of Santa Clara or any other county of the State of California.

A search of the records of the Library of Congress and other public sources does not show any publication entitled Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud by Frederick Hasek. Basilisk Press has apparently never published any books at all and yet a manuscript obviously did exist because Mr. Jensen read parts of it to various individuals.

The only known copy of the work was located in Mr. Jensen’s files after his death in 1984. It was in a file filled with typed notes on the subject of fake Rodin pieces and the activities of Albert Elsen. Some of these notes have been reprinted here.

The Hasek manuscript is basically a work concerned with an overview of art frauds, most especially frauds concerning Auguste Rodin, a history of the French sculptor and a fascinating section on the manufacture of bronze works of art and how fakes or copies of known famous bronzes can be easily detected.

Portions of the Hasek manuscript are set forth here to provide the reader with a strong and highly reasonable explanation for the furious and intemperate actions of Professor Albert Elsen and others who shared a strong vested interest in avoiding any controversy whatsoever concerning Auguste Rodin and his works.

“Fakery, fraud and deceit have long been handmaidens to the Muse of the Fine Arts and the marketplace for sculpture and paintings is no place for the uninitiated. Yet every day, thousands of dollars worth of allegedly original and rare pieces change hands, enriching the few and deluding the many.”

This is the opening of the work and the author goes on to be far more specific.

“An original piece by any artist, be it Rodin or Da Vinci, is one that the artist conceived and at least partially executed in his lifetime. Anything else, regardless of whatever euphonious title be applied to it: ‘authorized,’ ‘post-mortem work,’ or ‘posthumous casting’ is nothing more nor less than a modern copy, worth only a small fraction of the price of an original. Further, a modern piece taken from an unsigned original plaster study and carrying a copy of the signature of the purported artist is nothing less than a forgery and of even less worth than a replica which originally bore the artist’s name.”

Examining the career of Rodin, the author continues:

“…. in November of 1913, Rodin angrily demanded that a work, ‘The Earth’ attributed to him and on display at the gallery of a Parisian dealer be seized as a forgery. Shortly thereafter, it was conclusively proved that the piece had in fact been done by Rodin himself in 1898 and displayed by him at the Exposition Rodin. Confronted with this evidence, Rodin freely admitted that he had been in error. This episode is an excellent example of why ‘absolute’ statements must be view with great caution.”

There follows a technical discussion of the preparation of molds of sculpture and the techniques for the casting of bronze works. It concludes with the passage:

“The general impression that ‘original molds’ of plaster exist into which molten bronze is poured is completely incorrect in point of fact and if used, would prove to be dangerous in the extreme, the plaster exploding on contact with the hot metal.

“The rubber mold may be used time and time again to produce more wax pieces but every bronze must be hand done and is not poured into a mold like a lead soldier.”

And further:

“The statement, so often heard, that ‘Rodin pieces are cast with his consent from original molds’ is completely false and a deliberate attempt to mislead prospective purchasers. What does exist in Paris at the Museé Rodin are original plasters…and bronzes…and it is from these that new molds are made and from these new molds, new copies. This is called surmoulage and the resulting pieces are replicas, to be more than generous, not ‘authorized pieces from original patterns.'”

This section ends with specifics that need no comment:

“How is it possible, then, to detect a fake Rodin made in this manner if it is made up from original bronzes or an original plaster?

“Firstly, if the piece is taken from an original bronze, it should be noted that bronze shrinks as it cools from the molten state and therefore a copy will always be smaller than the original. In the case of bronze, the shrinkage amounts to 5%. Attempts have been made to offset this shrinkage by adding small amounts of wax to the base of the waxen form prior to casting. This will serve to bring the height up to the correct size but the width cannot be altered.

“Secondly, the foundry markings on copy Rodin pieces are of great importance. In Rodin’s time, he very often used the famous Parisian firm of Alexis Rudier. This gentleman did not use the lost-wax process described here but instead, cast his pieces in fine sand.

“This is called sand casting as opposed to lost-wax casting and the interiors of the pieces show very clearly what process was used. Lost-wax pieces show details of the painting or pouring of the wax while sand cast pieces have an even, slightly gritty inner surface (which can be smoothed out but is still very uniform.)

“Original Rodin pieces show the foundry marks, ‘Alexis Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ on the outer surface of the bronze, generally at the base near the artist’s signature.

“In 1954, the Museé Rodin began to use the services of one Georges Rudier, nephew of Eugiene, the son of the original Alexis. Georges Rudier, unlike his ancestor, uses the lost-wax casting process and it should become painfully obvious, therefore, that a piece marked ‘Georges Rudier/Fondeur, Paris’ must of necessity be a very modern replica and, of course, not made from ‘the original mold under authority from Rodin himself.’

“Most of these modern surmoulage replicas are badly produced and instead of being carefully patined by hand with heat and chemicals, are painted with a brown lacquer.

“One should note that the collection of the Museé Rodin contains all of the pieces found in Rodin’s studio at the time the collection was taken over by the French government; including many pieces made by Rodin’s students. Also in the collection are many plaster maquettes or small studies for larger pieces. Some of these crude and unsigned plaster studies have appeared on the art market in bronze, signed ‘A.Rodin’ and with the Georges Rudier foundry signature. The original studies were never signed and as examples of the artist’s work in progress (if they were even done by Rodin and not an eager pupil) have some small value but small value indeed when compared with the selling prices of known originals.”

The final comment on the subject of copies is:

“A general rule of thumb in measuring a casting to determine its pedigree is the 5% figure. A work which approximates 5% less in size than a known prime copy is a secondhand work without question and most certainly neither original nor of any value whatsoever other than a decorative piece with which to impress visitors.”

In a published interview with a student reporter from the Stanford ‘Daily’ on February 16, 1979, Charles Hawkins, Schattle’s attorney said he believed the case would hold “some surprises” and felt that it would be quickly resolved but that it if wasn’t concluded within a month, it could open up a whole new issue.

“What we might get into in this case is that Stanford might be holding $3 million in fakes.”

This admonition must have had some effect because Elsen suddenly stopped preparing regular press releases attesting to the absolute authenticity of the Cantor bequest and two months later, with no press coverage whatsoever, quietly settled the case out of court. The terms of the settlement were never made public and are not a part of the official records now located in the courthouse annex in San Jose.

Mr. Jensen’s notes indicate that after the settlement, Professor Elsen made repeated and very vocal attempts to contact him to discover how Elsen’s letter had ended up in the hands of George Schattle. Jensen declined to speak with Elsen and after the furious Rodin expert made a number of additional but equally fruitless calls on the same subject to other staff members at KGO-TV in San Francisco, he gave up his quest.

Jensen made one final note on the case before he closed his files. This dealt with the sale of the Hasek manuscript on Rodin fakes to parties whom Jensen called “concerned, interested and very influential parties from the higher reaches of the art world” for an undisclosed but apparently impressive sum of money. Jensen was requested by the purchasers, who Jensen listed by name, title and occupation, to surrender his copy of the manuscript. He claimed that he had disposed of it by giving it to his former friend, Alfred Frankenstein. As the latter had very recently died as the result of a massive heart attack, the purchasers abandoned their pursuit.

Jensen obviously did not dispose of the manuscript and it was subsequently found in his papers, quite intact and covered with the late newsman’s notes.

Jensen’s last note said:

“Al Frankenstein was wrong after all. If someone wrote a book telling lies about the art world, the author managed to convince the big boys otherwise.”

The four Rodin statues that began the controversy were reported in the media as having been sold by Mr. Schattle for an undisclosed but substantial sum.

There were no further public comments from Professor Albert Edward Elsen when news of this sale became public.

Rodin: The Anatomy of a Fraud was written in 1977 and one statement made at the conclusion of the manuscript is now in error.

“There is another use to which replica art may be put besides merely merchandising it to the trusting and innocent. Wealthy individuals are known to buy up quantities of replicas and then make some kind of arrangement with a willing expert whereby the latter will supply an appraisal attesting to the high intrinsic value of the items.

“Armed with this, and often with the further assistance of the expert, the owner of the pieces now poses as a philanthropist and distinguished patron of the arts and in this role, donates the replicas to a public, non-profit institution such as a museum or public gallery. He is then able to declare this gift on his income tax return and take a massive deduction based, not on the purchase price, but the appraisal value.”

In 1986, the tax laws were altered to specifically to prevent this from happening. From that year onwards, the only sum a donor of art objects to a tax-free entity cam claim is the actual purchase price of the piece or pieces, not an inflated valuation supplied by a potentially venial expert.

Perhaps this aspect of the manuscript was what Mr. Jensen meant when he spoke of “something embarrassing.”

The chronicle of the four Rodin pieces is such an interesting microcosm of the more negative aspects of the human condition in general and the fine art market in specific that its study has proven to be well worth the research involved.

There seems to be no question that it is relatively easy to make fake copies of original bronze works of art. Merchandising them, one can clearly see, calls for the cooperation of a willing expert. but in reading through the thick files of official documents, letters, notes, records of depositions and yellowing newspaper clippings, the reader is struck by what most certainly appears to be a pattern of very malicious manipulation of individuals and establishments.

The chronology of events would seem to indicate that the elusive but quite deadly manuscript that caused so much trouble appeared after Mr. Schattle had his personal encounter with Professor Elsen.

It also seems reasonably certain that someone, perhaps Mr. Schattle but more probably someone else, had taken the measure of both the art world and one of its more emotional spokesmen and played on all of them like an out of tune piano.

Two decades after the final settlement was made, the questioned pieces sold and Elsen retired to his classroom to lick his wounds, most of the participants are dead and rapidly forgotten.

Mr. Howe, Jerry Jensen, Dr. Sterling, Alfred Frankenstein and a number of others have left the stage. B. Gerald Cantor gave more of his interesting pieces to Stanford’s Rodin Sculpture Garden, which resulted in a small article in the local press, and then joined the others in their very long silence. Only Albert Edward Elsen and George Schattle remain and somewhere, there are four Rodin bronze statues, which produced a great deal of entertaining sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.

 

Envoi

At the beginning of February, 1995, a copy of this commentary was sent to Professor Albert Elsen, by an academic colleague for his comments and observations.

On February 5, 1995, a news story came over the Associated Press wire concerning the progenitor of the Rodin Sculpture Garden.

Stanford-AP  Albert Elsen, a Stanford University art professor and expert on the sculptor Auguste Rodin, has died. He was 67. M. Elsen died Thursday of an apparent heart attack.”

$9 million Rodins: Police help get them back to their owner

by Andrea Gemmet, Almanac Staff Writer

April 10, 2001

Four small bronze statues worth $9 million were recently returned to their owner after a disappearance of nearly nine years following a soured business deal with a Menlo Park man.

The story of the statues — which were bought at a Menlo Park garage sale 30 years ago, went missing, and were finally returned to their lucky owner — sounds more like an exciting episode of Antiques Roadshow than a case handled by Menlo Park police detectives.

George Schattle, a Bay Area antique gun collector, discovered four statues by eminent French sculptor Auguste Rodin at a garage sale in 1972. The sculptures are 25 inches tall and weigh 30 pounds each; they are signed and have been authenticated, with an appraised value of $9 million, according to Menlo Park police detective Sgt. Larry Shannon.

In 1992, after Mr. Schattle retired and moved to Mexico, he decided to sell the statues and entered into a sale agreement with Menlo Park resident Robert Devlin, whose girlfriend owned an antique store, said Sgt. Shannon.

Mr. Schattle contacted Menlo Park police in 1996 after repeatedly trying to get back either his statues or the money from their sale from Mr. Devlin, said Sgt. Shannon.

Menlo Park detectives could find no proof of the sale agreement between Mr. Schattle and Mr. Devlin, and handed the matter over to the civil courts.

But, in 1999, Mr. Schattle’s attorney came back to Menlo Park police detectives to ask for their help, and left the entire case file with them, said Sgt. Shannon. In it, detectives discovered the original signed agreement between Mr. Schattle and Mr. Devlin, setting into motion a court battle that landed Mr. Devlin in jail, Sgt. Shannon said.

Mr. Devlin was ordered by a judge to return the statues, and when he failed to do so, was ordered to pay Mr. Schattle $9 million, according to Sgt. Shannon.

When he failed to come up with the money, Mr. Devlin was hauled into court on contempt charges and Menlo Park police were again asked to step in.

Menlo Park police detective Paul Kunkel was one of the detectives who escorted Mr. Devlin from a courtroom to his house and back last August, after a judge ordered him to produce documents showing the statues’ whereabouts. Mr. Devlin refused to and was jailed, said Det. Kunkel.

“The judge went out of his way to give (Mr. Devlin) as much time and latitude as possible, but he was just not doing it,” said Det. Kunkel. “If you don’t follow a judge’s orders, you can end up in lot of trouble and he did. He got put in jail.”

The missing statues showed up less than two weeks later and Mr. Devlin was released from jail, according to Sgt. Shannon. After several postponed court dates, the statues were finally returned to Mr. Schattle in January, and his attorney reports that a prospective buyer has been found in England.

Detective Kunkel said the case is one of the most unusual he has ever been involved in.

“It was really interesting. We don’t deal with a lot of art theft,” he said. “And all of the personalities involved were very interesting.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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