The great online art illusion: A cautionary tale

An art gallery’s brush with some (very clever) ‘Warhol and Haring’ works

Arts Correspondent

Sometimes a deal is just too good to be true. One London gallery owner learned the hard way when a treasure trove of work apparently by artists including Andy Warhol and Keith Haring appeared for sale on eBay.

Charles Uzzell-Edwards, a graffiti artist who uses the moniker Pure Evil and who runs a gallery of the same name in Shoreditch, east London, thought he had hit the jackpot two months ago when the works appeared online – many bearing a stamp of authentication.

Yet after spending “substantial sums”, it appears his prize purchases were, in fact, high-quality imitations. He set about getting his money back, culminating in the threat “to go No Country for Old Men” on the seller; a reference to the thriller in which a hitman is sent to relentlessly track down a man who has stolen $2m.

“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Mr Uzzell-Edwards told The Independent yesterday. “I’ve had a real education here, and doing the research is so important.”

 

The row comes amid growing concern about the reliability of some online art sales. Last week a vicar’s son called Geoffrey Spilman, 48, from Rugby, Warwickshire, was revealed to have sold hundreds of fake paintings, including copies of work by L S Lowry and Ashley Jackson, via eBay. He was cautioned by the police and eBay has banned him from the site.

Mr Uzzell-Edwards had been searching online for works by a range of contemporary artists, including his “holy grail”, the graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I can’t afford £2m. I have set up searches on eBay for his work though, and for Warhol and Haring.”

About two months ago, Polaroids purporting to have been taken by Basquiat started to show up in his search results, as did works by Haring and Warhol.  Many seemed to bear the stamp of the now dissolved committees that once authenticated the artists’ work.

“We were thinking, wow we’ve found all this amazing stuff,” Mr Uzzell-Edwards said. “We were thinking about doing an amazing exhibition and catalogue. ‘Let’s get on Antiques Roadshow and show them the soup can box [a shipping box from the Campbell Soup Company supposedly used as reference material by Warhol, which was among the lots being offered]’. We said we’ll take it all right now.”

Mr Uzzell-Edwards bought some works and contacted the seller to see if he had more. That seller, who has the username bobinga33, then offered him even more pieces.

“We bought a Perfecto jacket with a Haring on it. He did a bunch of those in 1988. We bought some Andy Warhol screenprints and metal subway signs,” he said. “I did a lot of research into them to see if they were the right dimensions. Things checked out.”

Warhol remains hugely popular to this day with his work regularly going for millions of dollars. Haring was one of the most important artists from New York’s East Village scene in the 1970s and 1980s and his work appeared on the city’s subways and streets before he arrived in prominent galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art. 

But as Mr Uzzell-Edwards investigated his purchases further – and consulted a range of experts – it became clear they were not originals, but impressive imitations. 

And it seems likely he may not have been the only one to have made this expensive mistake. An investigation by the Artnet website has established that a “spreading plague” of imitation Harings is currently being offered around London dealers – by a mysterious seller who also lives in Sweden.

Mr Uzzell-Edwards tracked down his Swedish eBay seller through the return address on the parcel that delivered the works. The man called himself Patrick Maske.

The Independent was unable to contact Mr Maske, but in an email to Artnet he wrote: “I am not an expert in this area ... I’ve been selling items on a site called eBay and tried to be as clear as possible with these objects. Whenever I’ve listed something on eBay, I’ve written that I have no purchase ticket or any other paperwork to accompany the item. That’s why the listings are starting with 1 dollar.”

Mr Uzzell-Edwards said:  “We sent a letter to Maske two weeks ago saying: ‘Pay us back or else’. Nothing happened so I sent a strongly phrased letter along the lines of ‘if you’ve seen Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, I’m going to do that until you end up in prison’.”

The full amount was finally returned on Wednesday, and Mr Uzzell-Edwards decided against going to the police. The imitation  works remain in storage.

After going public with his experience, Mr Uzzell-Edwards was contacted by people in the US and Australia who had also bought pieces. “There are so many people doing this on eBay. There are all these terrible Jean Michel Basquiat drawings being sold. Because they say it’s ‘in the manner of Basquiat’ those aren’t against the rules.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future