Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

This is a mind-bending walk through The Art of the Con as practiced by con-master John Drewe, simultaneously and serially known as John Cockett, a different Mr. Cockett, Mr. Sussman, Mr. Green, Mr. Atwood, Mr. Martin, Mr. Bayard, and Mr. Coverdale.

John Drewe and the skilled painter John Myatt together perpetrated one of the longest-running and most extensive art frauds of the late 20th century, extending from London to America and the European continent, and from there around the world. Breathtaking high-wire stunts of impersonation and art forgery, archive-diving and modification, provenance creation and solicitation all came to a halt nearly a decade after it had begun when a few of the more than two hundred paintings Myatt had forged and sold came to the attention of New Scotland Yard’s chief of The Art and Antiques Squad, Dick Ellis.

The description of John Drewe and his fraud holds one kind of fascination; the gathering of evidence and the actual trial hold different thrills. John Drewe was undoubtedly one of the finest liar-performers ever uncovered, and in fact, the con has become known as John Drewe's long "performance piece" by insiders and investigators. Drewe kept such an enormous cache of personae in the air at the same time, and convinced so many of his rectitude, that one would simply love to see him act, as long as his mental acuity was not aimed at one’s life savings, nor one’s unprotected heart.

While all of this completely absorbing story holds interest for the reader, I especially loved the graceful way it ended. We learn of the take-down, the trials, the sentencing, and the after-trial outcomes. This is a marvelously-told story with lessons for all of us. I can absolutely recommend the audiobook narrated by Marty Peterson, though I did listen to it on slow speed. At normal speed I was getting so much info I couldn’t keep track of names and places.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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