Netflix churns out awful woke content. Every show is woke appropriate. The one refuge seems to be documentaries. Sure, there are plenty of left wing framing and content, but occasionally something can slip through with minimal progressive flavoring. Made You Look is one such documentary. I recommend watching this little window into the world of the rich and their ridiculous patronage of the fine arts.
This documentary checks the boxes for, well, a documentary that our crowd would make. Made You Look covers a multi-decade fraud pulled on oblivious 1% cosmopolitans using the garbage art of the abstract modern painters that the CIA manufactured into the ‘it’ crowd. It was performed by immigrants with no attachment to America, a wealthy Jewish philanthropist with family ties to communism, and the Knoedler art gallery of New York. At the end of the day, the rich get off without any prison sentence, this is swept under the rug and the art world is shaken as now everyone worries about forgeries in galleries.
The key from an art perspective here is that the modern abstract painters were producing garbage that laymen knew was crap, yet the in crowd said it was high art. This fraud in its own right was exposed over fifty years ago with the Pierre Brassau hoax when a primate painted, fooling art critics who when confronted with the hoax doubled down on their praise. We have known for decades that it is all a joke they pull to consider themselves the enlightened insiders while plebeians do not understand or get the fantastic garbage.
That garbage itself was all a CIA creation. Frances Saunders book The Cultural Cold War is a must read for how the CIA funded and molded nearly all art (visual and written) in the fight against the Soviet system. America was so free that it would allow this type of creativity to flourish. All of the Mockingbird assets were used, as even in this documentary they show how TIME magazine was calling Pollock the most famous living American artist alive. They memed Pollock into fame. The regular Joe Sixpack sees it as swirling chaos. The BFA knows the right words to say to appreciate it and justify the multi-million auction prices.
That’s what comes into play here. An immigrant out of Long Island waltzes into Knoedler and starts to spin a tale. It is a great con, worthy of a movie script. She knows exactly what to say to play up the idea that she has an heir to a rich, dead private owner who has an unknown until today collection of abstract paintings to unload. This immigrant has another immigrant, a Chinese painter, who manufactures these forgeries in his garage in Queens. The right words are said. The right names are dropped. The style of the paintings look close enough to fit.
The real hinge is the star of the show Ann Freedman who deserves an Oscar for her performance. She is either the dumbest woman in America or the best actress. She denies anything was fake, and she claims to not be involved with the con. Her interview segments are the best, especially when they come back to her after a man or woman has described an event and she contradicts it. Maybe a he said-she said is believable once, but she does it with so many people that the constant is her faulty memory.
Within her stories though, one sees how the modern art crowd has their head up their ass. Galleries accept these forgeries as legit and show them. Art experts look at these and claim they are originals, and some even write strong letters of authentication. Others do not. Some did not fall for this con, so the question of money is in play. Were those other experts paid off to sign off on them? This is important as the money involved is staggering. The sales of these forgeries kept Knoedler afloat, Hammer’s pockets fattened and Freedman earned tens of millions in commissions. Even after taxes, Hammer enjoyed 200% to 800% profits on the sales.
There was also the prestige of these finds and sales. They had uncovered hidden gems for the rest of the art world. This was a huge draw for these experts to flex their knowledge of the long dead artists. This was the draw for buyers, too. These buyers were hedge fundies, GoldmanSachs executives, and the elite of NYC. They wanted these paintings, and surprisingly, never asked why they were getting them so cheap if they were real.
The con fell apart though once one buyer asked for forensic analysis of a purchase. The data came back with proof that paints used in these were first made years, even decades, after artists died. Other bits started to come out like the paintings signed with misspellings. Experts claimed they could not imagine one forger could copy these artists styles, but seriously, when it is Pollock’s mess or Rothko’s blocks, how hard would it to be to fake? Simple financial auditing proved no money was going back to the original collector.
No one serves a day in jail because the prime target was a small fish who got time served. The Chinese forger hopped on a flight to China and is untouchable. The mastermind who had committed similar frauds in the past is chilling in his home country (Spain). America is an economic zone to do business and crime. Freedman and Hammer were never brought to justice because the federal prosecutors felt it would be too tough to convince beyond a reasonable doubt fraud occurred.
Therein lies the big fraud. These modern abstract artists were a giant con played on the art world and society. These paintings get swapped, millions change hands, and the rich get to feel elite. This is their racket. Besides real estate, art sales are the only good that is exempt from money laundering rules. It is all a racket, and you are not allowed into it. The photographs from swanky parties of buyers, sellers and the art crowd hammer the point home that we have an elite that is not an elite. This is an aristocracy larping as aristocracies of old. The old aristocracies were patrons of the arts. These people try to do the same. All they can do is patronize what they are told, which is pathetic modern art. Even within that framework, they are merely there for fashion and cannot prevent their patronage from falling into the muck. Their art is the same as their rule, fraudulent and disconnected from the masses they supposedly serve as stewards.