Unconvicted because never charged yet fully admitting his past, American art forger Ken Perenyi's ghostwritten "memoir" (scare quotes intended) titled "CAVEAT EMPTOR: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger", the ghostwritten confessional tell-all of how a "tune in, turn on, drop out" high school kid from 1960s New Jersey learned to forge the great 19th century American artists and dupe the biggest auction houses and galleries in New York and London for 30 years without getting caught, was edited by Claiborne Hancock at Pegasus Books and agented by Don Fehr at Trident Media Group. Unfortunately, he never presents the reader with an authentic depiction of the mind of a pathological fraud, which is really what the book should have been all about. Wait for the movie, with Leonardo DeCaprio reprising his role as Frank, er, Ken Perenyi?
Perenyi, a Hungarian-American most likely, given his noble surname, barely finished ninth grade, but his ghostwriter (name withheld but mentioned in the book's acknowledgements page) illustrates how he became one of America’s top unethical dishonest art forgers. Why the culture that spawned him in now celebrating him as culture hero and celebrity, with a movie option on the table as well, is beyond words. But this is America, and "catch me if you can" is the going motto, Madoff to Perenyi. Thing is Madoff got caught and charged (and sentenced), while Perenyi walked scot free.
Born in 1949 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ken Perenyi is a self-taught artist who painted his first pictures during the Summer of Love in 1967, having discovered an uncanny ability to intuitively grasp the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Old Masters. A series of fateful events resulted in what was to become a 30 year "career' as a professional and dishonest and unethical art forger. Today he operates his own studio in Madeira Beach, Florida where he lives single -- a confirmed bachelor -- and afraid of his own aging process and fearing death.
SNYNOPSIS: When Perenyi met Tony Masaccio, who lived in a building called the “Castle” near the author’s hometown of Fort Lee, N.J., he was a young uneducated and untutored guy, a blank slate just waiting for someone with chalk. The Castle was a center of cosmic energy where dozens of people showed up for Masaccio’s parties and long, lost weekends in the 1960s. When he discovered his talent for art, Tom Daly, a local artist, took Perenyi under his wing, sharing his artistic knowledge and encouraging his eager student to learn by copying great works. A book about Han van Meegeren, a Dutch art forger, taught the author the basic principles of forgery, and a job working for a conservator allowed him to hone his talents. Visits with Daly and Masaccio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the auction rooms of New York City gave Perenyi all he needed to begin producing his “Flemish” paintings. He began with Dutch paintings and moved on to American art and then British sporting pictures. He never copied known works, but he developed an eye for what inspired the artists and created paintings that they could very well have done, always using authentic materials. His eager buyers ranged from local shops to the great auction houses of New York and London.
Some readers who don't care about ethics or honesty in America might be be captivated as they follow the development of this remarkable yet flawed talent over a 40-year career. Ghostwtitten by Allan Smithee. BACKGROUNDER: Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.”
Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi's confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off.
Glamorous stories of art-world scandal have always captured the public imagination. However, not since Clifford Irving's 1969 bestselling Fake has there been a story at all like this one. Caveat Emptor is unique in that it is the first and only book by and about America's first and only great art forger. And unlike other forgers, Perenyi produced no paper trail, no fake provenance whatsoever; he let the paintings speak for themselves. And that they did, routinely mesmerizing the experts in mere seconds.
In the tradition of Frank Abagnale's ''Catch Me If You Can'', -- SEE? WHAT DID WE TELL YOU?!!! -- and certain to be an unethical and cockamamie bombshell for Pegasus Books and the MSM, here is the story of one of America's greatest yet unethical and dishonest -- let
s be honest! -- art forgers.
PW SAYS: Painter, draft dodger, and art world huckster Perenyi offers a facile, ghostwritten account of the ''glory'' (scare quotes intended) days of his 30-year career as an art forger. His story begins in “the Castle,” a dilapidated New Jersey estate inhabited by two beatnik artists who take in the younger Perenyi as one of their own. With his new mentors, Perenyi pays frequent visits to Max’s Kansas City and rubs shoulders with Warhol acolytes, inspiring him to try his hand at painting. Soon enough, he’s replicating 16th-century Flemish portraits, which he sells to antique dealers and galleries. As his exploits grow in value and range, the threat of being caught rises and the FBI draws near. In theory, there’s enough to this story to pique a discerning reader’s interest; on the page, however, Perenyi’s tale unravels with vacuous prose and a lack of self-awareness or genuine insight; he offers little more than rote, blow-by-blow accounts of his scandals. Most interesting is Perenyi’s description of his hangups with his own aging process and distressing his forgeries so that they might appear authentically weathered. Unfortunately, he never presents the reader with an authentic depiction of the mind of a pathological fraud. Born in New Jersey some 63 years ago to a Hungarian-American factory machinist name Mr Perenyi and his wife Katya, Ken stil single after all these years, now lives in Florida and worries about getting old and hearing Death's sad knocking on his door. But for now, there's the book and Hollywood is calling! So there IS redemption in America, and Ken is living proof. Sort of.
Rachel Cotterill reviews: "A disappointing telling of what should have been an interesting story. I did like the technical details of forgery, from composition through to ageing the finished work. However, I found the style of the book rather too dry and unengaging."
Somewhere, Elmyr de Hory is smiling. WHO?
----------------Elmyr (pronounced el-meer) de Hory was a notorious art forger of the 20th century. The flamboyant Hungarian claimed to have sold more than 1,000 fakes to galleries and museums around the world during his career. His insistence that he had passed off paintings by such artists as Picasso, Modigliani and Matisse caused a scandal in the world of art and its experts. After serving a jail sentence in Spain, De Hory was kicked out of the country and later told his story with Clifford Irving in the 1969 book Fake! He apparently committed suicide in 1976, although some believe he faked that, too. De Hory is featured in the Orson Welles film F for Fake (1974) and the documentary Masterpiece or Forgery? (1997).
Extra credit:During the making of F For Fake, Irving was discovered to be a fraud as well, having faked his "authorized" biography of billionaire Howard Hughes.