Daria Price’s new documentary, Driven to Abstraction, intrigued and impressed the audience at the Art Students League of New York on Tuesday evening.
The film tells the story of the Knoedler gallery, one of New York’s best-established and esteemed art dealerships until 2011 when it closed over lawsuits related to the sale of forged abstract expressionist paintings.
Much of the story revolves around two central figures – Ann Freedman, the gallery’s president until 2009 who purchased the forgeries, and Glafira Rosales, the Long Island art dealer who supplied them. The nature of these two women’s partnership remains unclear to this day but Rosales ultimately plead guilty to her crimes, served a brief jail sentence and was ordered to pay $81 million to the victims of the scheme. Freedman and Knoedler faced their own share of legal action but in the form of civil cases brought by duped art buyers, all eventually settled out of court. Freedman maintains her ignorance of the fraud and continues her career as an art director at her own gallery.
These are the broad facts, but the details are even more intriguing. The forgeries, which number at least 60 and span the works of Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, were allegedly painted by just one artist, Chinese immigrant Pei-Shen Qian. According to the documentary he was selling portraits in Times Square when Rosales discovered his abilities and recruited him. The master forger was indicted in the Knoedler investigation but escaped to China. It’s also unclear how much he knew about the scandal.
The scandal told onscreen primarily by journalists who covered the case, raised questions about the rules and (lack of) regulations in the art world. Forgeries are prevalent, but art experts often don’t recognize them or expose them to avoid risking their reputations. Wealthy art collectors do the same –imagine the disgrace of never noticing the sprawling Jackson Pollock decorating the living room was actually signed by Jackson Pollok. For some, that’s an embarrassment worth millions to avoid.
The film delves into further detail and speculates about Ann Freedman’s state of mind – could she really have been so easily fooled sale after suspiciously convenient sale? It’s clear from the breadth of individuals interviewed and from the level of detail Price includes that this film was a labor of love. But, because of all the details, and because many individuals central to the case could not be reached or refused to talk, the film ends up saying very little about the Knoedler scandal or the art world at large.
Audiences who seek out this film are unlikely to share this perspective. It’s the kind of glorious niche topic that could dominate a dinner conversation for hours.
Driven to Abstraction found a perfect home at the Art Students League, the alma mater of Pei-Shen Qian. The film wowed the audience and opened the door to a truly engaging post-screening conversation and Q&A with director Daria Price and New York Times journalist Patricia Cohen who broke the Knoedler story.
Driven to Abstraction has been picked up for distribution by Grasshopper Film, who will handle North American rights.
Festivals – 2019:
Best Documentary Feature Nomination – Raindance Film Festival
Official Selection, Haifa international Film Festival
Official Selection, Hamptons DocFest
Official Selection, Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Official Selection, FilmColumbia Film Festival
Upcoming screenings Spring 2020:
Saratoga Film Festival – March 27- April 5
East Hampton Arts Council @The East Hampton Library, NY – April 25
Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival – April 23
Click here to inquire about special screenings!