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Forgeries of African American Art on the Rise

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Today, the recent boom in museums has revealed a devotion to African-American artists and the increasing amount of attention paid to these artists has led to a significant rise in forgeries, according to a new report.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

For African American artists, prior to 1980, exhibition venues were few, museum opportunities rare and there wasn’t concrete infrastructure for Black art.

“Before that time, the primary infrastructure for African American art lay in the hands of academia,” said Larry “Poncho” Brown, one of Maryland’s most prolific artists.

Brown noted that such talented individuals as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and others stood above the industry prior to the 1980s while the Harlem Renaissance, AfriCOBRA, and other black art movements were the last of the noted revolutions in African American art.

Today, the recent boom in museums has revealed a devotion to African-American artists and the increasing amount of attention paid to these artists has led to a significant rise in forgeries, according to a new report.

The ART Newspaper reported that, in the past few weeks alone, there have been many fakes purporting to be the work of Alma Thomas, Beauford Delaney, Charles White, Romare Bearden and Bob Thompson.

“It’s a whole generation: you could go from A to Z through the list, from Charles Alston to Charles White. I am seeing fakes attributed to all of them,” New York-based gallerist Rosenfeld told the newspaper.

Propelling the fakes market is the fact that many of these artists were overlooked or undervalued in their lifetimes, so scholarship and expertise in their work is limited. “You simply can’t go back to the source any more, and there is only a handful of people who worked first-hand with a lot of these artists while they were alive,” Rosenfield said.

“Forgers know they can capitalize on that.”

For artist Jonathan Green, who owns the popular Jonathan Green Studios in Charleston, S.C., forgeries are of little surprise. “In my 40-year career, I’ve run into more fraud than you can shake a stick at,” Green said. “Fraud has been around since the beginning of time.”

Because African American artists are now appreciated, there’s a high-value placed on their work and that keeps the fraudsters working overtime, Green said. Also, because black artists have historically been overlooked, so-called art experts are ignorant to many great originals, he said.

“A lot of people are capitalizing on this and, in some cases, the fault lies with the museums and the cultural centers because they’re not sophisticated enough to know about these artists,” Green said.

Additionally, as noted in The ART, some of the artists whose works are being forged, like Jacob Lawrence, have estates and foundations which should make it easier to authenticate the works.

However, foundations just aren’t doing this work anymore because they can’t afford to, said Bridget Moore of New York’s DC Moore gallery, which represents African-American artists including David Driskell, and Lawrence. For this reason, Moore says she has always kept detailed “fake files” on all of her artists.

Some of the recent forgeries include a 2011 case where Louisiana artist William Toye and his wife, Berry, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud after conspiring with a New Orleans-based dealer over the course of nearly 40 years to sell dozens of works painted by Toye and fraudulently signed as Clementine Hunter, an African-American artist who died in 1988. Hunter was self-taught and arguably one of the most significant artists to come out of Louisiana, according to the FBI special agent Randy Deaton, who led the three-year-long investigation.

“It was a remarkable case because she was a folk artist,” Deaton told The ART. “She was well known, but there wasn’t an authoritative archive on her career,” which made it easier for Toye to pass off his own paintings as hers.

One of the things that gave away the forgeries was the presence of cat hairs on some canvases, the conservator and forgery specialist James Martin, who consulted on the case, told the newspaper.

Currently the director of scientific research at Sotheby’s, Martin is the founder of Orion Analytical, which was acquired by the auction house in 2016.

“Cat hairs, the same discrepancies in under-drawing and signatures, and dirt wiped on to [the works] to impart a false appearance of age linked the fakes I examined to a common source,” he said.

Ultimately though, it was the sheer number of forged works attributed to Hunter by the Toyes that gave Martin a substantial sample size, enabling him to find the forgeries.  “Generally speaking, problems with forgeries become easier to spot when seen in large numbers,” he said.

Concerns about the authenticity of several works by Charles White were raised when the Art Institute of Chicago was organizing the artist’s first major survey show, according The ART.

The exhibition, seen in Chicago last summer, is currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is due to travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next month.

According to FBI special agent Timothy Carpenter, who manages the agency’s art crimes division, “it’s not the first time this issue has come up,” but he adds that the fake works that are surfacing are likely to be small or not of very high value, which may make dealers disinclined to formally report them.

Activism

San Francisco Proposes Art Installation to Honor Black Lives, History of African Americans

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent.

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Dana King/ Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco, CA. – Mayor London N. Breed today announced the City of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor Black lives and the history of African Americans. The installation is planned to be located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse next month, in time for Juneteenth.

The installation, ‘Monumental Reckoning,’ by Bay Area sculptor Dana King, honors the first Africans stolen from their homeland and sold into chattel slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures representing the number of Africans initially forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic in 1619. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved people.

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth 2020.

“The art and monuments that we choose to display in our city and the civic art that fills our public spaces must reflect the diversity of our community, and honor our history,” said Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will help us not only commemorate Juneteenth, but also serve as an example of how we can honor our past, no matter how painful, and reflect on the challenges that are still with us today.”

Monumental Reckoning would allow visitors to commune with the figures. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from atop the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written by civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson which was first performed in 1900—the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. 

For more than a century, Johnson’s song of unity has been sung as the Black national anthem. U.S. Representative James Clyburn is currently leading an effort to have the song named America’s national hymn.

“I’m excited to see the new monument go up in Golden Gate Park to honor Black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to right a wrong. Rather than uplifting individuals with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”

The installation was approved by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee this week. It is currently under review by the Planning Commission. “Lift Every Voice” will also need to be approved by the City’s Historical Preservation Committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19, or Juneteenth 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The art piece would remain in place through June 20, 2023.

“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said King, Monumental Reckoning’s creator. “Monumental Reckoning fulfills both objectives with the installation of 350 ‘ancestors’ who will encircle the Francis Scott Key plinth in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in judgement, holding history accountable to the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people brought here in 1619 to the last person sold to another, all victims of chattel slavery. Even though the business of enslavement ended long ago, it still resonates generationally for African Americans and forms the bedrock from which systems of oppression proliferate today.”

Fundraising, community outreach, and ongoing support for the installation is being provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. Creative and programming support would be provided by The Black Woman is God, which is an annual group exhibition of Black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The project celebrates Black women as essential to building a more just society and sustainable future and reclaims space historically denied to Black women artists.

“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and commemorates is a sober cultural gut-punch long overdue, and I hope it’s the beginning of many such visual testaments in the public realm that venerate the origin stories of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We almost never see images of Black people represented in our public monuments, or in the American telling of history. So, it’s no surprise that in a society rooted in white supremacy, people of color remain invisible and undervalued in our mythology, symbols, architecture and national narrative. While the City examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of monuments in San Francisco, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we venerate in our open spaces.”

 “We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Monumental Reckoning prompts frank discussion about the legacy of slavery, while charting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park—a beloved public space that belongs to everyone.”

This story was produced by the San Francisco Mayor’s office.

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Art

MC Arts Gallery Opens During the Marin Open Studio

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: TheArthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

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From top: Oshalla Marcus (director/curator, MC Arts & Culture) with Osiezhe’s drawings to the right of the photo, Zwanda, Mitchell Howard , ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band: Carlton Carey (drums), Mwanza Furaha, (vocals), Jack Prendergast (bass), Ricardo Moncrief (keyboard), James Moseley (guitar, vocal). Photos by Godfrey Lee.

The MC Arts Gallery, located on 100 Donahue St. in the Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, is open during the Marin Open Studios, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 & 2. 

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: The Arthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

Zwanda seeks to be creative as she expands her ideas as a sculptress and painter. She is inspired by the human figure and dancers and is fascinated with music and the instruments themselves. Her art is a way to express this love and to share it with others.

Mitchell Howard studied art at San Francisco State University and the Computer Arts Institute of San Francisco. He was an art director at Cummingham & Walsh in San Francisco and has displayed his paintings at the Hannah Gallery, worked on the Rocky Graham Park Mural and has taught art at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Elementary School.

“Art can bring people together and illustrate things that people can relate to,” Howard says. “Art can also be powerful in sending social messages to society. Art makes you think, it expands your horizons and makes you use your imagination. People may see different things in the same painting.”

Osiezhe, Shakira Gregory’s son, will be displaying his drawings at the Gallery.

The ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band played last Saturday afternoon with Mwanza Furaha as their guest vocalist.

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Art

City Council Approves $480,000 in Arts Grants

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

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The Oakland City Council approved $480,000 in grants to 17 Oakland-based non-profit organizations and 20 individual artists through the city’s Cultural Funding Program, Neighborhood Voices.

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

The grant program seeks to bring Oaklanders together to create and support a sense of belonging within a community, to foster social connections that lift people’s spirits, to encourage community well-being and offer visions for a collective future, according to the announcement.

The following individual artists each won $7,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Frederick Alvarado; Karla Brundage; Cristina Carpio; Darren Lee Colston; Maria De La Rosa; Elizabeth D. Foggie; Rachel-Anne Palacios; Laurie Polster; Hasain Rasheed; Kweku Kumi Rauf; Carmen Roman; Michael Roosevelt; Fernando Santos; Teofanny Octavia Saragi; Kimberly Sims-Battiste; Cleavon Smith; Lena Sok; Babette Thomas; Ja Ronn Thompson; Joseph Warner.

Each of the following organizations received $20,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Asian Health Services for Banteay Srei;

Beats Rhymes and Life;

Chapter 510 INK;

Dancers Group for dNaga GIRL Project;

Dancers Group for Dohee Lee Puri Arts;

Dancers Group for Grown Women Dance Collective;

East Oakland Youth Development Center;

Higher Gliffs for Endangered Ideas;

Hip Hop for Change;

Junior Center of Art and Science;

Mycelium Youth Network;

Oakland Education Fund for Youth Beat;

Oakland Theater Project, Inc.;

Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice;

The Intersection for Alphabet Rockers;

Women’s Audio Mission;

Youth Radio/YR Media.

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