Mark Rothko’s son takes a stand at Knoedler trial

When Christopher Rothko, the son of Mark Rothko, appeared in United States District Court in Manhattan on Monday to testify in the Knoedler & Co. fraud trial, he was presented with a document claiming he had “recognized” a painting as a work. By his father. It was a document that the gallery had used to convince potential buyers of the authenticity of the work. Rothko rejected the document, saying he never authenticates artwork.

Rothko, along with art historian David Anfam (author of the catalog raisonné Mark Rothko) and plaintiff Eleanore De Sole, were the three witnesses who appeared at trial on Monday in the lawsuit brought by Domenico De Sole and his wife Eleanore against Knoedler & Company and its former director and president Ann Freedman for selling them a fake artwork allegedly by Mark Rothko.

The lawsuit is the only one in a series of fraud suits brought against a trove of Abstract Expressionist works the gallery sold after buying them from Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales. They supposedly came from the son of a secret Swiss collector. The gallery settled out of court with other defrauded buyers.

While Rothko conceded that he described an alleged work by Mark Rothko that the gallery offered as “beautiful”, he said he described it that way because “I didn’t want to go any further than that because I didn’t want to not be sitting here today. The courtroom erupted in laughter.

Like other witnesses, Rothko insisted that he never gave the gallery his permission to state that he authenticated the work and never discussed it. its authenticity with Freedman.

Other gallery memos claimed that Christopher Rothko had “expressed a debt of gratitude” to the gallery for its research and that he had been so impressed with a supposed painting by his father that he had recommended it for a catalog. of exposure. Rothko denied making either statement.

David Anfam.Photo: Patrick McMullan.

David Anfam.
Photo: Patrick McMullan.

Lawyers for the defendants pointed out that the Rothko heirs gave permission for one of the alleged Rothkos to be included in a calendar under their copyright. They also referenced a letter Christopher Rothko sent to Freedman, conceding that catalogs raisonnés are not necessarily complete and that other works by an artist may later be revealed.

Anfam, for its part, showed its outrage on the stand by describing what appeared to be Freedman’s efforts to exploit his expertise without his permission.

A leading expert on the artist, Anfam compiled a catalog raisonné of Rothko’s paintings in 1998. Gallery documents showed that Anfam had approved the work as authentic; he testified that he had never even seen him in person.

According to a document discussed in court, the gallery told buyers that the Rothko sold to the De Soles was to appear in a later catalog compiled by Anfam, and that another work, which was sold to the Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery for $325,000 , was should appear in an Anfam catalog of works on paper.

“It’s scandalous,” said Anfam, stressing that no such catalog was in preparation.

Anfam further pointed out that had he known the full history of the works Freedman was offering, he would have doubted their authenticity. Had he known that Rosales was supposedly selling up to thirty Abstract Expressionist paintings, he said, “it would have raised alarm bells”.

On cross-examination, Anfam admitted that it had recommended that a painting by Barnett Newman by Knoedler be acquired by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, NY, and included it in an exhibition that he had organised. He also asked for a fee to lobby the museum to acquire the canvas.

He maintained that he was not informed that IFAR had refused to authenticate any of Rosales’ works. Had he known, he testified, “it would have introduced an element of doubt into the whole matter”.

Anfam also recounted a conversation with Freedman in late 2011, after the accusations of fraud appeared in the press. Freedman tried to get him to approve a fragment of a Clyfford Still painting from the Rosales hoard for inclusion in the collection of the Clyfford Still Museum, in Denver, Colorado, where Anfam is senior consulting curator. (The painting had been burned in a vehicle fire while in transit, Freedman told Anfam.) This would have constituted proxy authentication of the work, Anfam said.

Describing his incredulous reaction, he said: “I don’t know if you have a similar expression in America: ‘That’s kinda rich’.”

Earlier in the day, Eleanore De Sole had completed her testimony.

Testimony continues on Tuesday.

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