Dreams Dashed

This is a very interesting article regarding fake Aboriginal art circulating in current auction houses. The full article was taken from The Australian:

'Dreams dashed in Avdo Tabakovic’s race to profit from suspect art'

When Tanya Weaver started painting for Avdo Tabakovic, an auctioneer accused of selling fake or falsely attributed art, she thought he was going to make her “a rising star”.

At first, she says, she did pop and street-art pictures under the pseudonym Roy Eder, which art consultant Paul Auckett and artists Rone and Adnate have told The Weekend Australian is a franchise name created by Mr Tabakovic to market lower-quality work.

Then, according to Weaver, Mr Tabakovic asked her to try something new. “One day he sketched a pattern on a piece of paper and gave me a couple of canvases to paint; he also gave me a colour palette,” Weaver said. “I thought it was some sort of ­abstract style to begin with. I questioned him and he told me it was Aboriginal style.”

In articles published this year and last, art-world figures accused Mr Tabakovic and his partner, ­Giovanna Fragomeli, of selling ­almost $100,000 worth of fake or “misattributed” Aboriginal art. Complaints have been lodged with police and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.

The suspect canvases traded alongside those of 10 top painters via a company called Arthouse Auctions, run and owned by Mr Tabakovic and Ms Fragomeli. Arthouse reaped more than $2.3 million from “verified” sales last year, according to auction records.

Ms Fragomeli has ­denied selling illegitimate artworks and defended­ her company’s authen­ticity guarantee. In a statement ­issued on behalf of Mr Tabakovic, she said Weaver had been ­involved in producing Roy Eder works in 2011, but said: “No advice was provided to Ms Weaver about painting in ­indigenous styles.”

Using online records, Weaver identified several of the 30-odd canvases she says she produced for Mr Tabakovic. Two feature in 2011 auction records for GraysOnline, accompanied by certificates of authent­icity signed by Mr Tabakovic and Ms Fragomeli respectively. The certificates attribute the works to Lena Pula Pwerle.

Weaver says she expected the Aboriginal paintings she says she produced to be attributed to “Tanya Weaver after such and such; in this instance Tanya Weaver after Lena Pwerle”. When she learned they were being sold as by Pwerle, she was shocked: “I thought, ‘How can I be famous or well known if it’s not my name?’.”

Pwerle is an Aborig­inal artist based in the Utopia ­region of Central Australia. She could not be reached for comment.

Weaver says she quit her job soon after, feeling, “disappointed, disgusted, pissed off, angry and sick in my belly”.

Ms Fragomeli said the claims that Mr Tabakovic had misattributed the works were “not true”. “Avdo was dealing with Aborig­inal art dealers at the time and was consigning from them for his auctions. Furthermore, Aboriginal artists do not commonly sign their artworks,” she said.

An image of a work that looks very similar to one identified by Weaver appeared in an Arthouse Auctions catalogue a couple of months before the GraysOnline sale. A picture in the Arthouse catalogue shows Pwerle’s name on the back of the painting; the catalogue ­description promises a certificate of authenticity issued by Australian Dreamtime Art, a trading name used by the couple.

One of the GraysOnline catalogue descriptions mentions a company called Art Invest. When approached for comment, Art Inves­t’s owner-directors, Shane and Amanda Benson, said: “Those works were supplied by Avdo Tabakovic on consignment.”

Ms Benson said the paintings came via Empire Fine Art, a trading name that company records show belonged to a now deregistered firm called Kingshall Holdings, co-owned by Mr Tabakovic.

In comments published this week, Mr Auckett joined artists Rone and Adnate in accusing Mr Tabak­ovic and Ms Fragomeli of relying on a business model that involved “manufacturing art as a product” and offering it for sale without proper disclosure.

Ms Fragomeli has acknow­ledged procuring art directly from “lesser-known”, as well as household-name, painters, but argued doing so was common practice.

Justin Feuerring, an artist also known as Maxcat, says he was pleased when Mr Tabakovic first visited his studio, “flashing a bit of cash”. “I didn’t think too much of it until I ... was exposed to him manufacturing street art,” Feuerring said. “He would buy a bunch of work from credible artists and then cut his manufactured works in between … if he could make his own street art for really cheap then he could make a profit margin more than he could if he was buying it off real artists.”

Feuerring says Mr Tabakovic would paint or procure street art at low cost, in styles mimicking those of established artists, then reproduce prints in bulk for sale under pseudonyms. Mr Auckett claims to have witnessed this.

Two more of the paintings Weaver says she produced appear in the catalogue for Australia’s first major street-art auction, which Ms Fragomeli organised and Mr Tabakovic jointly supplied with Mr Auckett. The canvases are listed as by Roy Eder and Bandit. Weaver says she and Ms Tabakovic painted the Roy Eder canvas, and they separately produced works later sold as by Bandit. Ms Fragomeli said Weaver “did not assist with any of the artworks by Bandit, but did assist with some minor mixed-media works of Roy Eder”.

Mr Auckett has accused Mr Tabakovic of flooding that sale with art “manufactured as a product” in order to reap outsized profits. Ms Fragomeli reiterated remarks that the business model “enables us to provide high-quality and original artwork at affordable prices”.

Weaver said: “It’s embarrassing of what I did in the past, let alone the rubbish artwork I produced.” She now paints her own work under her maiden name.

 Tanya Weaver in her studio