It was 1994 in New York City. Art dealer Ann Freedman walked into the once reputable and now defunct Knoedler Gallery with a Mark Rothko portrait in tow. Abstract expressionist work was in high demand, and this mid-century Rothko piece was never seen before. The gallery believed they had acquired a rare, authentic piece of previously unknown artwork. This started Ann’s 17-year rapport with The Knoedler Gallery, eventually becoming the gallery’s president, and bringing in more than $80 million in sales. The only problem was that each piece Ann brought in was counterfeit. Once the gig was up, the gallery shuttered, and a federal investigation began, as explained in the true crime podcast, “Art Fraud.” But did Ann know the works were fake?
Cavalry Audio and iHeartPodcasts present “Art Fraud,” an investigative series written by Vanity Fair’s Michael Shnayerson and narrated by Alec Baldwin. Start the 8-episode series from the very beginning to hear Ann’s story in chronological order. So far, all episodes run under an hour long.
All season, listeners will hear from an assortment of people from the art world, as well as people who knew Ann. Episode 1 explores Ann’s backstory. She was raised in Scarsdale, New York and became interested in art. After graduating with a BA from Washington University in St. Louis, she received a receptionist job at NYC’s Emmerich Gallery in the 1970s. Ann quickly went above her job description and started selling work in the showroom.
Ann was considered ambitious and a great salesperson, although her coworkers were not her biggest fans. We learn how Ann eventually found her way to the Knoedler Gallery as a salesperson. Ann became the Knoedler Gallery’s director, and over the years, Ann acquired and sold counterfeit works like a de Kooning for $4 million, a Jackson Pollock for $17 million, and a Robert Motherwell for $1 million, just to name a few. Rothko pieces were reportedly sold for $8 million+ each.
The artwork duped museum folks, art conservators, and experts until 2009. Forensic testing was used on Motherwell and Pollock paintings and showed that the paint chemicals did not match. The paint chemicals in the Pollock replicas were not available until the 1970s, and he died in 1956, so it was impossible. The FBI was alerted, and they investigated.
The second episode explores The Knoedler Gallery’s history from its opening in 1846 to Ann’s resignation in 2009 and its final days in 2011. This case exposed a multi-million dollar crime ring, involving an art forger in Queens, NY, fraudulent art dealers, tax evasion, and money laundering, just to name a few details.
The first few episodes of “Art Fraud” are now streaming, with new episodes posted weekly.