Many collectors of Man Ray's photographic works have been panicking following the disclosure that dozens of late reprints were sold as originals in recent years, it was revealed in the daily Le Monde on April 7th 1998.The Man Ray scandal erupted when German collector Werner Bokelberg lodged a complaint before French justice after discovering that the 78 rare prints he had bought for some
US $ 1,6 million were mostly forgeries.
Herr Bokelberg is one of the several "stool pidgeons" who hungrily went for Man Ray's photographic works which are sometime worth over US $ 400,000 a piece.
Man Ray (1890-1976), a provocative American of Dadaism and Surrealism, is one of the world's greatest photographers of the 1920's and 30's.
Collectors are now frantically checking the provenance of the works they bought in the past 20 years for the simple reason that only original prints are worth huge sums of money whereas reprints produced after the death of the artist are usually sold less than US $ 500 per unit.
Herr Bokelberg now wants to put an end to the illegal industry which is putting the stability of the market for photographies at stake.
For instance, a Japanese collector reportedly bought an album of some 50 forged "Rayogrammes" by Man Ray for some US $ 1,5 million.
Now fakes have been circulating in numbers because Man Ray's works have become much sought by collectors. His famous print "Black and White" notably fetched US $ 350,000 at auction in 1994.
The problem is that the artist's production had been mismanaged since after the Second World War. Many prints he had rejected reappeared on the market after his death while his widow Juliet and her brother, a former New York policeman, took control of the printing copyrights.
Man Ray himself was not really strict regarding reprints produced between the early 1950's and the mid 1970's as he often faced demands to publish or exhibit his works. All the more, he only used to indicate on the verso of his photos the date of their creation so no one can be sure of the exact period of printing.
Le Monde also stressed that "too many people had access to his studios where negatives and prints were stacked in numbers". It quoted a foreign historian who knew Man Ray personally at the end of his life who said that he witnessed
"shocking things" and added that many of his works were stolen by people of his entourage.
After the death of Man Ray, prices for his works went skyrocketting when the newly-born market for photographs started to blossom.
Dealers here said the ageing Juliet Man Ray was not able to cope with the huge bulk of works left by her husband. In addition the people who were in charge of producing prints, notably Serge Béguier and Pierre Gassmann, have been suspected of having issued reprints in large quantities.
Another man facing criticisms is Lucien Treillard who acted occasionally as Man Ray's secretary and who supervised the production of reprints after 1976.
Many collectors and gallery-owners have been trapped in this scandal notably American dealer Virginia Zabriskie who bought from a French collector half a dozenworks by Man Ray at about US $ 20,000 a piece. She believed these were original prints dating back to the 1930's. meanwhile U.S lawyer Arnold Crane reportedly sold to the Getty Museum works which were in fact reprints produced in the 1960's.
The trick played on the Getty museum showed to what extent it had been easy to flood the market with reprints, the best way to pass a reprint off as an originalis to produce it on a blank photographic paper of the 1930's, experts said. Such trick proves to be almost perfect and even the use of a microscope to detect it is often not efficient since one would be forced to damage the picture in order to obtain a sure manufacturing date for the paper. This means a forger in possessionof a Man Ray original negative can make prints at will if he can find enoughunused photographic paper produced some 60 years ago.
The Pompidou possesses some 5000 negatives by Man Ray which were donated by his heirs a few years ago but it is known that the artist made at least 13,500 negative plates and contact-prints during his career.
Hundreds of these have remained unaccounted for and collectors are now in disarray when it comes to think that some dishonest persons in possession of the missing negative plates have already released forgeries on the market notably "tears"and" Black and White". It was known that Man Ray was used to rearranging his photos to distantiatehimself from the reality of the picture on the negative plate. As a result many reprints have been directly reproduced from negative plates without any change regarding the frame of the picture.
Le Monde suggested that many versions of the famous "Tears" series were in fact modern forgeries notably a print bought by British pop star Elton John.
60 year-old herr Bokelberg, whose dream was to become the world's number one collector of Man ray photographs, was nevertheless an ideal prey for forgers. Still,many specialists have come to question the fact that the price he paid for the 78 prints was well under the real value of originals.
Benjamin Walter, who sold to Bokelberg the 78 Man Ray works for US $ 1,6 million, a sum paid in nine instalments between 1994 and 1996, has already paid US $ 850,000 back to the collector but his gesture has not prevented the latter from lodging a complaint for forgery, use of forgeries, fraud and complicity of fraud.
Now the financial brigade department of the French police is investigating the matter while Walter said he entered in possession of the works - in fact reprints produced on a paper manufactured between 1992 and 1994- after the death of Serge Béguier, the estranged husband of Hélène Béguier with whom he is presently living.
Béguier was in charge of producing Man Ray prints between 1972 and 1976 and might have been tempted to make reprints after these dates.
Several Parisian dealers believe Benjamin Walter and Hélène Béguier do not represent the only source for the release of forgeries on the market which were presumably produced with copies of the original negative plates or even with the help of a computer. Meanwhile, Gérard Levy, a well-known expert for modern photographic works, has been much unsettled by press reports regarding certificates of authenticity he delivered for at least six fakes. Such disclosure has rocked the circle of collectors who now fear a market crisis because the Man Ray scandal only seems to be like the tip of an iceberg, meaning that many of the works of most great photographers who were active between 1900 and 1960 might be reprints.
A specialist here told Artnet that forgeries do not stop with Man Ray and that the illegal industry could be repeated with others like Moholy-Nagy, André Kertesz, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, John Banting, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Weegee, Edward Weston, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, Eugene Smith, Robert Doisneau, Alexander Rodchenko, George Hoyningen-Huene and so on...