Odd Art Forger

He’s not in it for the money:

Mr. Landis…has been one of the most prolific forgers American museums have encountered in years, writing, calling and presenting himself at their doors, where he tells well-concocted stories about his family’s collection and donates small, expertly faked works, sometimes in honor of nonexistent relatives.

Unlike most forgers, he does not seem to be in it for the money, but for a kind of satisfaction at seeing his works accepted as authentic. He takes nothing more in return for them than an occasional lunch or a few tchotchkes from the gift shop. He turns down tax write-off forms, and it’s unclear whether he has broken any laws.

EDITED TO ADD (1/23): Another article on Landis.

Posted on January 19, 2011 at 7:02 AM47 Comments


BF Skinner January 19, 2011 7:43 AM

The Feds have busted Andrew Auernheimer and Daniel Spitler for the IPAD / AT&T breech and are charging “…monetary and reputational benefits to the defendants.” as motive.

This is the first time I’ve seen reputation listed as a criminal element. Although you don’t have to recieve monetary benefit in order to break some laws (cf DCAA).

I took this as a brick in bat they want to swing at hackers and security researchers who work for dangerous reasons – merit and recognition.

keith January 19, 2011 7:44 AM

The Art people will be more upset with his actions, but not consider what it means that their authentication process is flawed.

How does this transfer to other markets?
fake money given to someone, may make them happy for a bit until it is later proven to be fake later.

His is good advertising for the quality of his work and sould increase the price some would pay to have a fake picture done for them for legal (you may like to display a fake even if you owned the real one, if it was worth too much) ot illegal (fraud / theft) purposes.

Anon Bruce Poster January 19, 2011 8:34 AM

I loved the story. My mom used to restore badly damaged and obscure 19th century paintings by imitating the artist’s style. She always wanted to do something like this.

dd January 19, 2011 8:51 AM

thats because the heart of the matter is not whether you like the painting, whether it “speaks to you” but whether the signature is authentic, and the painter remains dead.

thats what people like pictures for, the signature and the confirmed death of the painter.

Clive Robinson January 19, 2011 9:04 AM

@ dd,

Sadly you are right.

This has the unfortunate consiquence that others then see the monetary worth as a mark of quality (which often it is not).

Much as this gentleman’s antics amuse me, he is guilty of “passing off” irespective of if it was for gain or not.

The fact that the “establishment” has it’s proverbials in a wad/twist just confirms your view point.

NE Patriot January 19, 2011 9:06 AM

The issue of authentication is a tough one. Oftentimes there are few directly verifiable connections securing the provenance of an artwork. If you’re lucky, the artist left behind sketchbooks and other such things, allowing art historians the ability to determine authenticity through a number of technologies. But the problem there is cost: x-raying paintings costs money, and it puts the art at risk by virtue of moving it. So historians rely on their pattern recognition skills– examining the brush strokes, the use of light and shadow, and so on– to verify the work as genuine.
Compounding the problem is the lingering effects of the second world war: museums are still figuring out who owned what, courtesy of the Nazis plundering.
It comes down to the human element many times, because unless the work is valued at something north of a million dollars, an owner isn’t going to see the need. Even Picasso made smaller pieces that aren’t particularly valuable in dollar terms, but they’re still incredibly collectible. Trouble there is that they’re not the famous pieces, where provenance is more easily verified.
And the human element goes further: many owners might just rather not know that the work they paid a king’s ransom for is actually a fake.

Johnston January 19, 2011 9:51 AM

People believe what they see; if you look the part, you’re supposed to be there, and you’re doing whatever you’re supposed to be doing.

It takes desperation to steal at night, and imagination to do it in broad daylight. This guy’s an artist in more ways than one.

eric January 19, 2011 10:04 AM


Fortunately, you are wrong.

Individual bits of canvas and pigment are not especially interesting or valuable. We assign worth to a very few not because they give us some vague aesthetic buzz, but because they connect us to our intellectual or cultural past in some way that we find vital.

Thus, if a new Bosch turns up, it’s of great worth because this is a painter whose worldview interests us. Since little of his work survives, every bit is precious.

This would be almost as true if it turned out to be by one of his contemporaries rather than Bosch himself, and for the same reason.

But if the same item turned out to be a modern fake, it has no interest (and thus no worth) at all.

nobodyspecial January 19, 2011 10:07 AM

All art is fake – seen that Michaelangelo’s David? Doesn’t look a thing like him, and Mike never even saw David – he just made it up.

Winter January 19, 2011 10:11 AM

This man falsified history. It is like falsifying historical records.

The point is not that there is money involved, or people duped. The problem is that (art) history is corrupted.

In short, this man was planting lies in the world of art.

Dirk Praet January 19, 2011 10:14 AM

From the article: “But I really doubt that there’s going to be any will or funding to pursue action against him, which is kind of sad,” he added”.

Now how sad is that for a statement ? What we’ve got here is a guy with a gift, a somewhat peculiar hobby, some decent social engineering skills and out after a bit of recognition only. To me, that looks just like a free audit by Joe Public of musea’s staff competence and authentification methods, in the process of which unfortunately some people are made to look stupid. If wasting someone’s time and making them lose face without any further consequences is to be considered a criminal offense, we may as well put the makers of shows like Candid Camera, Punked and Playboy TV behind bars as well.

The comparison with unauthorised pen-testing of course comes to mind, yet I think this is a bit of a different ballgame. It’s only one guy. Give him a break, and be prepared for when he comes knocking at your door.

Rob January 19, 2011 10:27 AM

Note that the museums are not destroying his works. They know that in a hundred years, this guy will be famous for what he did, and they will have a valuable work of art. He just has to be dead for a while for anyone to appreciate his skill.

paul January 19, 2011 11:22 AM

I wonder if somewhere there’s a delusional personal with a small cache of minor paintings by recognized masters who believes himself to be a forger. How could you tell?

MikeA January 19, 2011 11:42 AM

Winter: This man falsified history. It is like falsifying historical records.

This is the main objection I would raise. I have to admit that I admire his abilities (and yes, I enjoyed Exit Through the Gift Shop), but artifacts also answer questions that have not yet been asked:


and so forgeries muddy the record in ways we cannot even predict.

OldFish January 19, 2011 11:42 AM

What a crack-up! It seems to me that when a museum accepts a gift it does so of its own volition. Likewise when that museum decides to spend resource on verification. The FBI should do some real work, not waste resources on this character.

jgreco January 19, 2011 12:26 PM

Seems to me this man is guilty of nothing worse than creating more interesting art (a piece of performance art) than anything in the museum already. As for the people getting so uptight about this? They’re just enhancing the value of the art.

Sharkie the Cat January 19, 2011 12:40 PM

@paul at January 19, 2011 11:22 AM

In the movie “Interstate 60”, there is a character who tries to sell genuine works of art by well-known masters as if they are fakes. No one is willing to pay even the small price (amounting to framing costs) for them.

Davi Ottenheimer January 19, 2011 12:59 PM

Social engineering at its finest. He dressed like a priest and pretended to be more generous than he really is:

“because he was a man of the cloth and partly because he was bearing a generous gift”

Apparently it is not authentic-looking enough to get by on its own. It needs a fake priest to vouch for it.

Davi Ottenheimer January 19, 2011 1:05 PM

@ jgreco

“guilty of nothing worse than creating more interesting art”

on the one hand i’d like to agree. after all, art is about representation of the world, so he is adding to it with his own eyes/hand.

on the other hand, he is trying to present his own work as someone else’s. this is compounded by the fact that he pretends to be someone else and he gives false stories to support his presentation of the art as something it isn’t.

i think if he just presented it as his own, no harm done. but i do not yet buy the argument that he wants “satisfaction at seeing his works accepted as authentic”.

that’s like saying he wants the satisfaction of people believing he is a priest. it’s a means, but probably not the end.

Thunderbird January 19, 2011 1:09 PM

BF Skinner: “Brick in bat?” I have to ask what that was supposed to mean. I’m sure it was a typo, but I can’t figure out what was intended.

jgreco January 19, 2011 1:12 PM

@Dave Ottenheimer

I’m less interested in the actual paintings he created as I am in his performance. The social engineering and back-story.

Painting isn’t unique anymore, even if you’re painting something ‘new’. This is far more compelling though.

BF Skinner January 19, 2011 1:27 PM

@Thunderbird “I have to ask ”

It’s not well written is it? but I was most pleased with the idea.

A brickbat is a hod used to carry bricks around a building site especially up ladders. Useful as a weapon. So a brick added to the bat increases it’s striking ability.

So in a judicial sense this was piling on more and more offenses. “I didn’t profit by my act judge” “People think you’re pretty smart though?” “Well, yeah. Duh.”

(Merrim Webster and just about every other online reference disagree’s with me on this they say the brick itself is the weapon and I’m 2 days away from my OED.)

Robert in San Diego January 19, 2011 1:40 PM

It’s the old “you can’t con an honest man” bit. The people he’s fooling think they’re the sharpers taking advantage of a naive, somewhat innocent, or unworldly clergyman so out of it he’s not watched “Antiques Road Show.”

And yes, provenances and verifications in the art world can be pretty flimsy. Old, incorrect (or fraudulent) attributions can live on for years, possibly centuries after being debunked. Horace Walpole, in his book about Richard III, once posed the rhetorical question “Does a lie become venerable with age?” Sometimes, it does.

Imperfect Citizen January 19, 2011 2:00 PM

He really screwed up in Louisiana passing himself off as a Jesuit. Didn’t do his research.

I wish the FBI would take as much of an interest in contractor fraud/misconduct on domestic observations of US citizens that they help fund as they do on art fraud.

Richard Steven Hack January 19, 2011 3:49 PM

“We assign worth to a very few not because they give us some vague aesthetic buzz, but because they connect us to our intellectual or cultural past in some way that we find vital.”

Oh, yeah? The “vital” way is the claim, “Oh, look, I’m more intellectual or cultural than you are based on my appreciation of this crap!”

Art is that respect is a scam. And most of the art world is exactly that sort of scam. It’s one thing to understand and appreciate the work that goes in to creating/representing something in a different medium. It’s another to emphasize the appreciation over the work itself which is what most people do. I’ve listened to people talking art – this is what they do. It’s “oneupmanship” in virtually every case.

Ronnie January 19, 2011 10:08 PM

Off-topic (somewhat) – a new anti-counterfeiting technology
“The company’s Nano-Optic Technology for Enhanced Security (NOtES) product stems from an idea originating in the purest form of nature – insects using colorful markings to identify themselves.
How this works is microscopic gratings composed of nanostructures interact with light to produce the shimmering iridescence seen on the Costa Rican morpho butterfly. The nanostructures act to reflect and refract light waves to produce the morpho’s signature blue wings and absorb other unwanted light.
The highly advanced wing structures are the result of many millennia of evolution, and only recently have Nanotech’s scientists discovered how to reproduce these structures reliably.”

Singularity January 19, 2011 10:25 PM

re: Imperfect Citizen:
In Los Angeles County real estate theft by attorney fraud is considered so “normal” as an attorney practice
by some attorneys that a D A I know told me they have no interest in prosecuting it,
and have no funding to do so, and that they are noticed on about three cases a day.
Hooray for Hollywood!!!

Peter E Retep January 19, 2011 10:39 PM

Reputation is actually the Most Common motive for murder and serious crime:
it’s called “covering up”. It’s just usually done to prevent moving in the negative direction,
or as a fraud, where it triggers violence or loss to others.
But positive fraud of reputation includes resume fabrication,
use of “social security numbers” not issued by the government in order to obtain work,
and general puffery.

This shows that the information and the opportunity economy it creates
act differently than the resources / labour / goods economies.
As it is a non-consumptive generator of value, it escapes policies based on allocations of scarcity,
and so liberates the class of thinking persons.

The particular “criminalization” of many things that would have been jokes,
such as hoaxing done without profit,
or the attempt by many to criminalize any anonimity
or private encryption or the impersonation of innoccuous and un-instrumental identities on the internet,
is an attempt to restrict comparative communication and the practice of reasonable mental challenges.
It seeks to criminally enforce a state of public credulity.

Those who want to make the whole world “child wholesome” oddly enough
are also those who want to prevent children from experiencing make-believe and pretend problem states,
and exercising their imaginations,
thereby disarming them of their most self-protective instincts when in social communication with unknown others.

I’d rather have my children think that the Other End might be
a Mushroom-Man-Monster from Mars than unquestioningly believing
s/he is the mirror image other of themselves or their own parent.

Clive Robinson January 20, 2011 12:46 AM

@ BF Skinner,

“… and I’m 2 days away from my OED”

But… you are not by your own recent admissions (“Clive’s people” 😉 not English…

And as has oft been said “The English and Americans are one people divided by a common language”

So why would you seek to use the Oxford English Dictionary in prefrence to the very American Webster’s?

Also and what god forsaken part of the globe are you such that you would be two days away from an OED? I assume not some part that was once part of Her Britanic Majesties Empire?

(Sorry you presented an oportunity to good to miss to pull your leg a little, oh and demonstrate another accepted meaning of “Dopping a brickbat” 😉

Dirk Praet January 20, 2011 2:06 AM

@ Clive / BF Skinner

Since we are on the topic of fraud, BF Skinner was right to refer to the Oxford English Dictionary for the plain and simple reason that there is no such thing as American English. My teacher at school used to be very adamant about that 😎

Jarda January 20, 2011 5:15 AM

Damned, why doesn’t he ring at my door with some nice fake Brueghel or Granach, for example? I’d not sue him for it.

Adam Trickett January 20, 2011 5:59 AM

Last year an elderly couple were done for fraud having spent a life-time selling fake art works to museums all over the UK.

It was quite amusing how annoyed the various museums were when their authenticated works all turned out to be fakes. Some of the pieces were interesting in their own right but many were clearly poor fakes.

It’s fair to say that the authentication process is a joke and it calls into question to provenance of a lot of art work…

BF Skinner January 20, 2011 6:42 AM

@Clive & Dirk Praet

The nice thing about a book 25 volumns in width is it’s got scope. I’m told the difference between it and American dictionaries is that OED describes how the word has been used. American dictionary’s say what the word means. Not much depth there but we are a very very busy people.

But the way I’ve heard it, is that it is we in America that have a purer grasp on the language. Something to do with taming a continent while the Upper Class in Britain tried to distance themselves by language from the lower orders, who were always pulling a Hyacinth Bucket in order to get a better seat at dinner parties.

Clive Robinson January 20, 2011 9:17 AM

@ BF Skinner,

“I’m told the difference between it [OED] and American dictionaries is that [the] OED describes how the word has been used.”

And a lot more besides, even in the abridged version I have proping up the wall 😉

One thing the OED team try to do is find all the roots of words, and by that I don’t meen the usuall Greek / Latin stubs. And they include all the “rude words” too most of which have rather interesting roots that where not their current meanings.

The one that I usually quote is “gay” it has effectivly had a reversal of meaning in less than half a century. Look up “Bachelor Gay” in the 1930’s and through the 40’s and 50’s it refered to a “lounge lizard”, “two tone respondant” or as we used to joke when wearing the green “an on heatseaking ferret”. However in the sixties and certainly by the late 70’s Gay had moved to it’s more modern meaning. That said it is already changing it’s meaning yet again “ouff speak” in London has “That’s Gay” meaning the same as “That’s sick” which basicaly means “it’s the Mutts Nuts” or if you are old enough “cool / neat kit”.

For my sins when younger (70’s) I started (partly for a joke) to answer question’s “Yes.. No.. err… Right” partly to anoy anoying people who would ask me dumb technical questions and partly to buy a little thinking time when occasionaly required.

Eventualy in the 1990’s it made it’s way onto BBC Radio 4’s “Today Program”. Which you will know from your “Ed’n Bucket” comment is the hight of sophisticated morning listening for the WMC-ASP’s (oh and of course it got the real seal of aproval on the “Archer’s” as well).

Speaking of “Ed’n Bucket” you appear to be reasonably well up on English SitCom for some one (supposadly) trudging the green corridors.

Adam Trickett January 20, 2011 9:30 AM

@Clive Robinson. Interestingly my partner was told when doing teacher training to expect children to use the word “gay” as a general negative term and not to mean “homosexual” as it’s used by the media, or as “happy” as my childhood dictionary described it.

While some people try to hold on to a meaning of a word, the world moves on and sometimes a new use wins and some times it doesn’t, and sometimes it makes for good comedy…!

A gay phone could be:
* not very good
* happy
* attracted to phones of the same sex…

Jon January 20, 2011 9:47 AM

An aside @ Clive Robinson:
The construction, “Yeah, no” in response to certain questions, once you’re looking for it, pops up everywhere.

What it means (imho), is “I have comprehended your inquiry, and the result is negative”, eg. “You don’t really want to eat that?” “Yeah, no.”

But the instant contradiction is amusing.


dd January 20, 2011 10:49 AM

@mike & winter

falsifying history? Most history is written by the conquerors, we get their spin in the media all day long.
the history of a small group of people like one of the crap “survivor reality” shows is very complicated, some are rational actors and others are mental nutjobs, this is common everywhere, and in governments, a certain kind of bureaucratic mental case is the common type.
written history is always spin. theres very little truth in it, and what there is will be the minor details, who won the battle, not the deep reasons for the war.

All history is falsified by whoever the historian is. they fit it to the frame of reference of their own time and zietgeist.

this is why mark twain is being sensored, to fake history and lose true meaning.

BF Skinner January 20, 2011 7:35 PM

@Clive “Speaking of “Ed’n Bucket”

BBC has been making popular inroads on this side for decades. BBC America is, I think, getting so important to the BBC that they actaully broadcast the Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol here only a day after you all got it there. Usually we’re on a delay of 3 to 6 months.

When every we deployed and I had the choice of tuning up BBC World, the Soviet’s English broadcast, or VOA the crew usually came down on the side of BBC.

Until BBC America and web delivery came you provided a LOT of morning and late night programming to the Public Broadcast System (PBS). Best investment my Government ever made though it’s 95% subscriber supported.

No offense but I’ve found the best of British culture
(being of Irish descent myself, we can just both pass on the food, right? (though I do like Scotch eggs and can eat haggis I think mostly the food of the Isles (‘cept Guiness) is ‘stayin alive’ food.)
but the BEST of British culture, what it’ll be remembered for is it’s humor. I started, in real time, watching Avengers (Dame Rigg thank you very much), UFO, Space1999, Thunderbirds, any Gerry anderson ITC I could find and of course always Bond, James Bond.

My mom introduced me to this guy called shakespeare she dragged us to everything. And I didn’t get Hamlet (though I did date Ophilia), or most of the kings (starting to get sympathy for Lear these days) But Falstaf, Puck, Kate, rude mechanicals? I died. I returned the favor by introducing her to Monty Python and Benny Hill. Then my dad’s second wife? The Bucket woman! “watch the pedestrian dear!” She was honest enough to cop to it course it but it took y’all to put it on the air for her to see herself.

Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Hitchhikers Guide, Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Dr Who, Torchwood and now Dr Who. Red Dwarf, DiscWorld, Robot wars, Time after Time, Ballykissingal, The GOOD Life! Masterpiece theater, Are You Being Served?, Rosemary & Thyme, WHose line is it anyway, Rising Damp, Brittas Empire, Man about the house, To the Manor Born, The Prisoner, My Uncle Oswald, Willy Wonka, The Witches, The Saint, Absolutely Fabulous, Chef!, THe Office, Jeeves and Wooster, Waiting for God, French & Saunders, Black Adder, The Young Ones, The Catherine Tate Show, The Vicar of Dibley, Fawlty Towers (I’ve BEEN Baisle Fawlty!), Last of the Summer Wine (I’m now Norman, always wanted to be Compo but I’m Clegg), The IT Crowd, Spaced, Little Britain!

Diana Rigg, Judy Dench, Terry Prachet, Honor Blackman, Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, Ed Bishop, Geoffry Palmer, Patrick McGoohan, Felicity Kendal, Richard Briers, Patrick MacNee, Penelope Keith, Patrick Stewart, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Ian McKellen, Olivier, Micheal York,
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery, Catherine Tate, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Roald Dahl, Peter O’Toole, Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, Peter Sallis, Bill Owen, Neil Gaiman, Simon Jones, Peter Jones, Jane Horrocks, Anthony Head, Mark Wing-Davey, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Angela Lansbury, Alan Rickman, Stephanie Cole, Graham Crowden

Oh my God these are only what I’ve watch and remember.

Who the hell ARE YOU PEOPLE!?

Your entire Island (with the Ornkeys, N.Ireland and Mann (but not Rocknall)) AND Population would fit inside a single county in one of our western states.

I’m not bovvered!

random January 23, 2011 2:53 AM

if anyone is interested there is a similar story about Landis in the financial times that includes tracking the painter down and interviewing him.

Apparently he does it as a memorial to his parents – donated art in their memory.

Cross posted on slate

Roger January 23, 2011 7:26 AM

The question of what art is really worth is completely imponderable. The answer is basically “whatever the biggest sucker is willing to pay.”

In 1960, Piero Manzoni made a “limited edition” of 90 signed cans of his own faeces, named — honestly enough — “Artist’s Shit.”

It seems pretty clear that is was meant to be some sort of ironic statement about the idiocy of the commercial art world. Here he has made something that is cheap, tawdry, required no talent to make, has no inherent value, and is actually very unattractive to boot. Yet it is expected to be considered valuable because it has been labelled “art.”

Well, the irony came in spades. Manzoni apparently wasn’t a very good faeces canner because a few years back, some of the tins — now worth over a hundred thousand euros — started bursting. This resulted in emergency conferences of curators wondering how best to conserve these objets d’art. The obvious solution [1] — to pasteurise the tins the tins properly — was rejected because it didn’t respect the artist’s vision. You couldn’t make this stuff up!! (A small note for the curators: the artist’s vision was to make asses of you. You have respected this vision admirably.)

More interestingly, the owner of one leaking tin was unable to obtain compensation from his insurance company, who asserted that a famous leaking tin of shit was worth no less than a famous intact tin of the same stuff. Which, finally, segues into Landis’ art. What, exactly, is its worth? If a Landis fake is believed to be by an Old Master, and subjective belief is the source of value in art, then it really is valuable. Or if it is realised that it is by Landis, and he gave it away for nothing, then it worthless, but no-one is deceived and no loss occurs. It seems that harm occurs only when it is originally thought to be a Master, and then is discovered to be a Landis; the damage, perhaps, is that someone feels like an ass …

Either way, it is the same painting, looks the same, and is far more beautiful than a $100,000 tin of shit.

  1. Well, next most obvious apart from “throw out this rubbish.”

John January 23, 2011 7:32 AM

Time to time, a restorer working for a gallery or museum for poor wages, turns forger, and i bet there are a few at it and still in their jobs, nowhere better to pass the work off.

My first thought, before reading the NYT article, wast “must be an old boy”, well Landis isn’t young. Loneliness and attention look to me to be the strongest motivators here. Having a joke on the establishment, merely icing on the cake.

Surely, to be criminal there has to be intent? I don’t see that going on here.

“On the advice of lawyers, it did not explicitly warn other museums about its discoveries, Mr. Bassi said, but it tried to let them know to be wary of donations from a Mark Landis.”

just seems bent, i mean, what reason could there be to keep quiet, except to protect your colleagues elsewhere? How could it be a legal risk? Would museum admins really sue over this? Maybe it is such a petty world.

““But I really doubt that there’s going to be any will or funding to pursue action against him, which is kind of sad,” he [Tullos of the Hilliard] added.

That’s sick, to even think about suing the guy. Maybe they’re keeping quiet about something else.

If I was a curator, just tricked into considering a forgery to be by a great artists, I’d want to know if the forger made any original art.

I hope Landis took good photos before he handed his bequests. Mayve selling the license to a postcard copany would make him enough to send some real donations? I mean, he’s got a great advert already 🙂

Would anyone be so bold as to suggest that is proceeds of crime?

Oh, and since this is a security blog, i’m reminded the best way to beat a plagiarist, is to create another work. Landis is obviously good enough to bypass that trick!

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via https://michelf.ca/projects/php-markdown/extra/

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.