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Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger

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Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the inves Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.” Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi’s confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off. Glamorous stories of art-world scandal have always captured the public imagination. However, not since Clifford Irving’s 1969 bestselling fake has there been a story at all like this one. Caveat Emptor is unique in that it is the first and only book by and about America’s first and only great art forger. And unlike other forgers, Perenyi produced no paper trail, no fake provenance whatsoever; he let the paintings speak for themselves. And that they did, routinely mesmerizing the experts in mere seconds. In the tradition of Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me If You Can, and certain to be a bombshell for the major international auction houses and galleries, here is the story of America’s greatest art forger.


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Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the inves Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.” Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi’s confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off. Glamorous stories of art-world scandal have always captured the public imagination. However, not since Clifford Irving’s 1969 bestselling fake has there been a story at all like this one. Caveat Emptor is unique in that it is the first and only book by and about America’s first and only great art forger. And unlike other forgers, Perenyi produced no paper trail, no fake provenance whatsoever; he let the paintings speak for themselves. And that they did, routinely mesmerizing the experts in mere seconds. In the tradition of Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me If You Can, and certain to be a bombshell for the major international auction houses and galleries, here is the story of America’s greatest art forger.

30 review for Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Wow. Cool. Groovy. This is a very poorly written (noun, verb, predicate) expose by a guy who thinks he is too sophisticated for words. In reality he is a lying, cheating sleaze bag of a forger. Admittedly I am fascinated with forgery and restoration/conservation, but the smug, too cool for words, name-dropping non-style of this tell-all annoyed me. (Can you tell?) This is just a catalog of petty scams interspersed with lots of drugs and alcohol. At any rate, the discussions of actual forgery tec Wow. Cool. Groovy. This is a very poorly written (noun, verb, predicate) expose by a guy who thinks he is too sophisticated for words. In reality he is a lying, cheating sleaze bag of a forger. Admittedly I am fascinated with forgery and restoration/conservation, but the smug, too cool for words, name-dropping non-style of this tell-all annoyed me. (Can you tell?) This is just a catalog of petty scams interspersed with lots of drugs and alcohol. At any rate, the discussions of actual forgery techniques are decent, but the whole thing leaves you with a bad taste and a need for a bath. One can't help but wonder why such a "talented" artist didn't just paint...Oh, I know, because he made a fortune cheating and lying (not that I am all that sympathetic to private collectors or auction houses). The author explains that when he once tried to paint on his own, "it just didn't feel right." In fact, the more interesting part of the book dealt with the deceit and manipulation of the famous auction houses.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lance Charnes

    Ken Penenyi is what This American Life would call an "American original." A borderline juvenile delinquent from the wrong side of the Hudson, he stumbled across art and discovered he had a knack for dissecting and duplicating the styles of other artists. With the right sponsors, he managed to mix it up with the New York City boho art and fashion scene of the 1970s and 1980s. This naturally led to a career as perhaps one of the most prolific (and successful) art forgers in American history. And h Ken Penenyi is what This American Life would call an "American original." A borderline juvenile delinquent from the wrong side of the Hudson, he stumbled across art and discovered he had a knack for dissecting and duplicating the styles of other artists. With the right sponsors, he managed to mix it up with the New York City boho art and fashion scene of the 1970s and 1980s. This naturally led to a career as perhaps one of the most prolific (and successful) art forgers in American history. And he never got caught. Caveat Emptor is his story. Actually, two stories. The first is a record of a short, now bygone period in Manhattan's cultural cauldron during which a punk Jersey kid could rub elbows with name-brand mobsters, addicts, politicians, artists, fixers (Roy Cohn) and the glitterati (Warhol, Halston) with some measure of belonging, when the scene was changing so fast that the very rich hadn't yet been able to buy all of it. The second is the chronicle of the development of an art expert, because in order to make the successful forgeries he cranked out by the hundreds, Perenyi had to become an expert in the style, materials and methods of a number of semi-obscure 18th- and 19th-century artists. I grew up when Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, and Studio 54 were newspaper staples, so that part was mostly old news to me. It's the second story that I found most interesting. The author goes into some detail about how he studied the artists he copied, how he experimented to find the best ways to duplicate old-school painting techniques or the effects of aging, and how to defeat the industry's standard tests to determine authenticity. The last book that gave me so much detail about the forger's craft was a novel (Shapiro's The Art Forger ). It's of course self-serving, but Caveat Emptor makes clear that the author wasn't waging a lone guerrilla war against the art world -- he had plenty of help. The legions of dealers and auction houses who bought his forgeries without doing their due diligence or even asking about provenance, then selling them as originals at huge markups, were just as culpable. Some dealers bought the author's "antique" paintings even though they knew full well Perenyi was the artist. The auction houses hid behind artfully worded disclaimers (the majors come off especially badly) and an unearned veneer of probity while whipping the art market into a froth. Growing sensitivity to the problem of looted art has curtailed some of the worst retail practices in the past decade, making it unlikely another forger will be able to prosper the way Perenyi did. Read Caveat Emptor for the social history, or read it for its discussion of the art forger's craft. Perenyi is an artist, not a writer; his prose is simple and straightforward, not that his stories need a lot of verbal pyrotechnics. Yes, he's a criminal (although just how many of his exploits were actually illegal is a bit of a gray area) and thoroughly unrepentant; if he wasn't, we wouldn't be reading about him. He makes his forging career sound like a romp. Don't expect this book to provide moral uplift or redemption and you won't be disappointed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Garth

    I was a little skeptical of this book after the first few chapters. The writing style was a bit bland and direct and seemed to simply brag about the jubilant exploits of a teenager/20-something who was accidentally swept up in the world of fashion and art in New York City. However after this groundwork was laid the narrative progreses towards the authors growing passion for art and the way in which he began to forge the art of famous painters. This is where the book really began to become intere I was a little skeptical of this book after the first few chapters. The writing style was a bit bland and direct and seemed to simply brag about the jubilant exploits of a teenager/20-something who was accidentally swept up in the world of fashion and art in New York City. However after this groundwork was laid the narrative progreses towards the authors growing passion for art and the way in which he began to forge the art of famous painters. This is where the book really began to become interesting for me. I became hooked on the descriptions of how the author found ways to treat his paintings so that they would appear authentic to even the most scrutinizing experts. What I enjoyed is that the author did not forge out of cynicism or for a cheap thrill and a few bucks. He really seemed to appreciate the artists he was forging. He seemed almost compelled to forge because he knew he was good enough to do it right. I loved hearing about his analysis of a painter and breaking down their work and composition through careful investigations of photographs he would take, and prints and pictures in books he found. This book almost reads like a detective novel in reverse, where you get to see all the details of the crime laid out while wondering when and how someone is going to piece it all together.

  4. 4 out of 5

    d.a.v.i.d

    Son, ya’ need some culture. You’se ain’t got none. Ya wouldn’t know a Tintoretto from a Pinocchio, or a Dali from a Deli, a Monet from Money, Van Gogh from a Go-Go, a Motherwell from a Mother lode. Paintings. It takes a goomba, from New Jersey, to write a book about the art of art, to enlighten the reader to the creative process of past Masters. He was an artist himself, a wise guy, a forger. And he was good at it. A friggin’ rainmaker. This guy made a career out of selling fake paintings that he drew Son, ya’ need some culture. You’se ain’t got none. Ya wouldn’t know a Tintoretto from a Pinocchio, or a Dali from a Deli, a Monet from Money, Van Gogh from a Go-Go, a Motherwell from a Mother lode. Paintings. It takes a goomba, from New Jersey, to write a book about the art of art, to enlighten the reader to the creative process of past Masters. He was an artist himself, a wise guy, a forger. And he was good at it. A friggin’ rainmaker. This guy made a career out of selling fake paintings that he drew. Through Sotheby’s, Christie’s. True story. He now lives, or lived, in a mansion in FLorida. Many of you are well schooled in art. And you may enjoy this incredible memoir. I liked the book. Yo, yo, yo. And me know nuttin’ bout no pitchas. Moto bene.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Frazier

    "Caveat Emptor." Let the buyer beware. When I bought Ken Perenyi's book of the same name, I assumed he was referring to the buyers of his forged art. Turns out to be a more appropriate warning for buyers of this book. Perenyi was in New York in the late '60s and early '70s, during which time he stumbled into acquaintances with several of the city's more famous personalities, including Andy Warhol and lawyer Roy Cohn. In fact, much of this book is a testament to name-dropping, none of which gives "Caveat Emptor." Let the buyer beware. When I bought Ken Perenyi's book of the same name, I assumed he was referring to the buyers of his forged art. Turns out to be a more appropriate warning for buyers of this book. Perenyi was in New York in the late '60s and early '70s, during which time he stumbled into acquaintances with several of the city's more famous personalities, including Andy Warhol and lawyer Roy Cohn. In fact, much of this book is a testament to name-dropping, none of which gives us much insight into Perenyi's motivation for (eventually) becoming a renowned art forger. While he does discuss at some length the steps necessary to "age" a painting, including the surfaces, frames and media employed, at no point does he discuss how he actually goes about replicating any of the several artists (and styles) whose work would make him wealthy. How do the styles differ? How are they the same? What skills are necessary to replicate them, and how did he acquire those skills? I'd like to know how an artist transits from painting ships at sea to hummingbirds in the garden with the accuracy of a Xerox machine, and at no time does he broach the techniques required, something I thought essential to a missive about forgeries. What's more, at no point does he discuss the morality of his chosen craft, perhaps because he has no scruples. Not for two sentences does he discuss any second thoughts or rationale behind 1) essentially stealing from some of the greatest painters of their eras, 2) selling his forgeries to auction houses, antique shops and collectors for huge sums of money, and 3) diluting the true value of authentic pieces created by those same artists. The only time he seems to lose any sleep about any of this is when the FBI is on his trail, and even then he seems to take great pride in using some high-powered lawyers and the legal system to wrangle free of any punishment whatsoever. (Spoiler alert: He's apparently still doing this with impunity.) Not only is his "artwork" a fraud, Perenyi is a fraud, just as "Caveat Emptor" is nothing but an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Do not waste your time or money on this.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    In two weeks two different people recommended I read this. It was a very quick read and great. I'm sure I also appreciate it more than the average reader; as an artist, the technical info that was included here-and-there struck a chord. I've read several reviews stating that the story was unpleasant to read because the writing style was bland and direct. It is very matter-of-factly written, but I guess I don't see the need for flowery language when you're recounting an interesting history-- If yo In two weeks two different people recommended I read this. It was a very quick read and great. I'm sure I also appreciate it more than the average reader; as an artist, the technical info that was included here-and-there struck a chord. I've read several reviews stating that the story was unpleasant to read because the writing style was bland and direct. It is very matter-of-factly written, but I guess I don't see the need for flowery language when you're recounting an interesting history-- If you're telling a friend about an argument you just witnessed between a drunk lady and a naked man on a street corner, you don't stop and make a haiku of it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Mccann

    As I was talking about this book to my husband, I said, "the writing is so bland, and direct, the story so matter of fact, there is no way this can be made up. It must be authentic." Then I said, "the irony of that statement is not lost on me." An authentic story by an art forger. Bland is the writing, but the story fascinating. Ken Perenyi clearly is a gifted artist. Chance encounters and meeting unusual people led him to discover his gift. As starving artists go, he turns to forgeries to help h As I was talking about this book to my husband, I said, "the writing is so bland, and direct, the story so matter of fact, there is no way this can be made up. It must be authentic." Then I said, "the irony of that statement is not lost on me." An authentic story by an art forger. Bland is the writing, but the story fascinating. Ken Perenyi clearly is a gifted artist. Chance encounters and meeting unusual people led him to discover his gift. As starving artists go, he turns to forgeries to help him make ends meet until he can get his own career off the ground. Eventually it is the forgeries that become his career. The story is not so fascinating as to how he becomes an art forger, because that is like anything else; he just fell into it. Rather it is fascinating for how to forge art. The high school kid who couldn't become interested in science, math, history or literature, found his way to an elite education where chemistry, art, math, history and literature all played roles in his very successful career. Another irony, not lost on me, but never quite realized by Mr. Perenyi. Much of the book is on his beginnings as a forger, and while some reviewers wished he had spent less time on that and more time on the production of his forgeries, it is important to note that it is this time as a wayward teenager that sets the stage for his career. I mean, no one says "I want to be an art forger." It is the early years and his ambivalence towards his own career development that make the reader understand just how authentic this book is. After all, who hasn't at least once looked back on their life and said, "How did I get HERE?" Beyond some of the "how to" forge art instruction, fascinating is the number of people complicit in the forgeries. Mr. Perenyi only sometimes tried to pass them off as originals, directly to auction houses. The rest of his forgeries were sold by others, who intended to sell them as originals. This could have been Mr. Perenyi's attempt to deflect responsibility or culpability. Yet, there is no over riding theme of the book that would make me think that this was Mr. Perenyi's goal. Frankly, it is a blandly written, yet paradoxically fascinating story of how one becomes an art forger whose art fools even the "experts." It is also a great American story of how we all bumble along and answers the question, at least for Mr. Perenyi, of how we got THERE.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Kennedy

    This book by a wildly successful American art forger is compulsively readable. Ken Perenyi created a niche for himself by imitating artists whose work is well-known (Heade, Buttersworth, etc.) but not considered Old Master (Renoir, Vermeer, etc.). He found that these artists used the same elements in different arrangements in their paintings, and so he is able to mimic the arrangements using the same elements, like books and candles in still lifes, yachts in marine paintings, or flowers and bird This book by a wildly successful American art forger is compulsively readable. Ken Perenyi created a niche for himself by imitating artists whose work is well-known (Heade, Buttersworth, etc.) but not considered Old Master (Renoir, Vermeer, etc.). He found that these artists used the same elements in different arrangements in their paintings, and so he is able to mimic the arrangements using the same elements, like books and candles in still lifes, yachts in marine paintings, or flowers and birds in wildlife paintings. Mr. Perenyi also succeeds by studying the factors that make a painting look old -- the framing, the varnish, the canvas or board, the cracks, even the fly droppings that adhere to old paintings. He creates these effects through meticulous experimentation. He buys antique dressers to use boards from the drawers, and old paintings for their frames or to melt down their varnish for use in his paintings. He teaches himself how to create distinctive cracking patterns and how to age the backs of paintings. Ultimately, Mr. Perenyi's gig catches the attention of the FBI. Many of his forgeries ended up for sale in New York auction houses, which created a growing suspicion. Even though the FBI questions him at length and investigates for years, he is never charged. He never forged a painting's provenance, which seems to have muddied the question of intent to defraud. He relied solely on his skill as a painter and a forger to fool experts. Many dealers to whom he sold paintings knew they were forgeries and didn't care, the demand was that great. In fact, the FBI seems to have done Mr. Perenyi a favor -- throughout his life, he desperately wanted to create an oeuvre of his own, and now he can do just that, forging these great paintings and yet having it be known as his work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Williams

    I will first start this review by saying WOW. Now when I mean wow, I mean it in the sense that Ken Perenyi's life is like watching one of those crazy documentaries on the history channel, which you are pretty sure are fabricated, but it is just so FASCINATING (and you can't find the remote to change the channel anyway.) Ken lived near ANDY WARHOL and even sold a fake painting to him! Roy Cohn saved Ken from getting evicted from his apartment! Ken tricked Sotheby's into buying one of his painting I will first start this review by saying WOW. Now when I mean wow, I mean it in the sense that Ken Perenyi's life is like watching one of those crazy documentaries on the history channel, which you are pretty sure are fabricated, but it is just so FASCINATING (and you can't find the remote to change the channel anyway.) Ken lived near ANDY WARHOL and even sold a fake painting to him! Roy Cohn saved Ken from getting evicted from his apartment! Ken tricked Sotheby's into buying one of his paintings and it sold for $700,000 in an auction! This is only a small part of Ken Perenyi's life, and it all started by chance. At the age of 17, Ken is living in the hometown of Frank Sinatra (Hoboken, New Jersey) and he happens to meet two artists who live in a large house that is dubbed 'the castle.' From that moment on, Ken meets famous artists, actors, and writers that sets him on the path of becoming a painter. He begins to copy 19th century dutch paintings and learns he has a knack for reproducing them to the point that they are indistinguishable from the original. However, If you are like me, at this point you are asking yourself why he didn't just make his own paintings. If Ken is that good and painting (which he is) he should have no trouble making a legitimate living? If there is an overall theme to this book I would say this: Fate is a funny thing (thank you Mumford and Sons for that great lyric.) Somehow, where we want to be and who we want to be is not where we end up. Ken wanted to be a legitimate artist, but fate is a funny thing. But I will warn you: I actually hate Ken Perenyi. He is not a good guy. He writes the book as if what he is doing is divined by God himself, (although he steals, lies and cheats his way into a fortune.) And on top of not liking Ken's smug attitude, the novel was like reading a really long essay by a high school senior. Ken's writing style is so direct and bland sometimes it felt like I was back in Edinburgh and eating that flavorless roast beef, and waiter asks, "Can I get you anything?" And I reply, "Bring me ALL the SALT and PEPPER you have." If you can handle these two negative elements, its an interesting read if you are fascinated by those that live extraordinary lives.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    ca·ve·at emp·tor ˌkavēˌät ˈem(p)ˌtôr/ noun the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made I'm not sure what I expected, but I really enjoyed this. I would not however recommend this to just anybody. I am no trained artist but grateful to know enough about terminology like gesso, mediums, finishes etc. to follow the whole process Ken Perenyi went through. Caveat Emptor is the true story of a man who made millions over many ca·ve·at emp·tor ˌkavēˌät ˈem(p)ˌtôr/ noun the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made I'm not sure what I expected, but I really enjoyed this. I would not however recommend this to just anybody. I am no trained artist but grateful to know enough about terminology like gesso, mediums, finishes etc. to follow the whole process Ken Perenyi went through. Caveat Emptor is the true story of a man who made millions over many decades doing reproductions of famous American and British paintings. He had no formal art training but a sensitive analytical eye, keen instincts, and natural talent. Ken was a technical high school student who randomly fell into a 'castle' of artistic types who sucked him into the world of art. In imitating these masterpieces, he was careful to use historically correct canvas or wood, often derived from the bottoms of antique dresser drawers. He studied the natural pattern of cracks, as well as created new varnishes from old chemicals cleaned off period works that mimic the fluorescence of historic art under ultraviolet lights. He also learned what turn out to be surprisingly formulaic patterns of subject matter used by his chosen artists. Perenyi fielded a lot of criticism for duping the art world and says he really has no remorse. He did not at any time represent the paintings as historic pieces, but would present them at auction houses for their opinion. He obvious did take advantage of the system, the classic and snobbish attitudes around the value of certain artists and their work. He was never charged with anything because of a statute of limitations. I found this all quite fascinating. I had to chuckle at a few reviews that criticized the writing as bland, but this is nonfiction and probably geared toward a pretty specific audience. Whatever name dropping didn't bother me. What a lucky (?) coincidence that he fell into the crowd he did. While it was a crazy ride, he discovered his true talents!! Interesting podcast review on NPR with the author: https://www.npr.org/books/titles/1593... And a longer video of Perenyi https://vimeo.com/73508160

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    "Look at me, look at me!" says Ken Perenyi from the safety of this side of the statute of limitations. "I sold millions of dollars worth of forged paintings. Let me tell you about the sexy ladies I've slept with and the drugs I've done." "Look at me, look at me!" says Ken Perenyi from the safety of this side of the statute of limitations. "I sold millions of dollars worth of forged paintings. Let me tell you about the sexy ladies I've slept with and the drugs I've done."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sps

    So tawdry it cracks me up. Perenyi can't wait to tell readers about how he hung out with the rich and glamorous at their mansions, clubs, and art galleries, how much money he made for each fake painting, what kind of drugs he and his friends were doing and what gourmet foods they were eating. But of course he's the underdog, a blue-collar boy from New Jersey who's just trying to survive. Blink blink blink. There's a wonderful moment where he reads Dickens' Hard Times in his unheated studio (prob So tawdry it cracks me up. Perenyi can't wait to tell readers about how he hung out with the rich and glamorous at their mansions, clubs, and art galleries, how much money he made for each fake painting, what kind of drugs he and his friends were doing and what gourmet foods they were eating. But of course he's the underdog, a blue-collar boy from New Jersey who's just trying to survive. Blink blink blink. There's a wonderful moment where he reads Dickens' Hard Times in his unheated studio (probably wearing patched rags and fingerless gloves, with picturesque coal smudges on his well-defined cheekbones.) Never mind that he told us earlier about graduating from high school barely able to spell the alphabet. Whether Perenyi identifies as LGBTQ or not is irrelevant, but something didn't quite add up in his account of his long-time business partner, Jose. They lived together, they worked together, they vacationed together, for years and years and years. In other sections of the book Perenyi brags about hookups with young, thin, beautiful women, often models or actresses, but he describes no hook-ups while Jose was in his life. All of two paragraphs cover Jose's illness from AIDS and eventual death, which Perenyi describes as the loss of his "best friend." (250) The book is not exactly self-reflective so perhaps I shouldn't expect anything more, but it definitely left me wondering. If they were life partners, why not say so? If they weren't, or if Perenyi was only interested in women, what was the friendship/business partnership like, and how did they deal with being perceived as a couple? It was the art world in the 80s, after all.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alison Liaboe

    Reader beware. I was appalled by this true story of an art forger‘s seemingly nonchalant lifelong deception while at the same time amazed at Mr. Perenyi’s technical aptitude for and appreciation of 19th century American and British paintings. Unskilled out of technical college, a young Ken Perenyi was introduced to New York City’s art and drug scene at a very young age. He quickly learns he has an aptitude for faking art and, hungry for money, he finds a use for his new-found talent and enters a Reader beware. I was appalled by this true story of an art forger‘s seemingly nonchalant lifelong deception while at the same time amazed at Mr. Perenyi’s technical aptitude for and appreciation of 19th century American and British paintings. Unskilled out of technical college, a young Ken Perenyi was introduced to New York City’s art and drug scene at a very young age. He quickly learns he has an aptitude for faking art and, hungry for money, he finds a use for his new-found talent and enters a world of deception. Ken Perenyi tackles new opportunities for deception like the rest of us might undertake a home remodel; by buying books on his subject matter and digesting them over a brief time period; by purchasing paintings from the same period and dissecting them – removing them from their frame in order to learn the type of material they were painted on, the fasteners that were used to mount the picture to the frame, the varnish that was used and the cracking patterns that occur with age and given the period materials employed. I found myself continually weighing his lack of ethics with his absolute technical appreciation for the art. He understood that his forgeries would reduce the value of the real paintings – but after reading this book, I wonder if that’s actually true? At the end of the day, this book has piqued my interest enough that if there were an exhibit of Ken Perenyi’s fakes in town, I’d pay money to see them. Don’t get me wrong though, if there were an exhibit of the real paintings, I’d pay money to see them, too, but I’d probably wonder if they were done by the artist or the artist fake…

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Isn't there a rule about how if you're going to write a memoir about a life of crime and deception, you need to end it with some degree of contrition and remorse? There should be, because it's so annoying to finish a book and be like, this guy is very talented and also a total jerk. The grand finale is him ripping someone off for $750,000. That makes me feel bad inside. It seems to have no effect on Ken Perenyi at all; in fact it makes him want to write a book and brag about it. This is what we Isn't there a rule about how if you're going to write a memoir about a life of crime and deception, you need to end it with some degree of contrition and remorse? There should be, because it's so annoying to finish a book and be like, this guy is very talented and also a total jerk. The grand finale is him ripping someone off for $750,000. That makes me feel bad inside. It seems to have no effect on Ken Perenyi at all; in fact it makes him want to write a book and brag about it. This is what we call a poorly developed moral compass. The whole book is about him using his incredible artistic talent, creativity, confidence, and apparent charisma to deceive people and make the world worse so he can have lots of money to spend on a lavish mobster lifestyle. Boo. Also, it's not very well written.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Buehlman

    I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Perenyi at writer's workshops in Florida and hearing early versions of some of the chapters contained in this fascinating book. Ken's style is matter-of-fact and refreshingly devoid of crocodile tears and hand-wringing. He did some unethical but lucrative things, he got away with them, and here he tells us how. Period. We may not share Mr. Perenyi's outlook on the world, but that's precisely what is so interesting about this no-frills peek into real-life art for I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Perenyi at writer's workshops in Florida and hearing early versions of some of the chapters contained in this fascinating book. Ken's style is matter-of-fact and refreshingly devoid of crocodile tears and hand-wringing. He did some unethical but lucrative things, he got away with them, and here he tells us how. Period. We may not share Mr. Perenyi's outlook on the world, but that's precisely what is so interesting about this no-frills peek into real-life art forgery. I would never buy a Brueghel from this man, but I'll read about his deliciously shady exploits in 1970's Manhattan for as long as he cares to write about them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie Cramer

    There's no denying that this is an interesting book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been written in prison by a remorseful Ken Perenyi. There's no denying that this is an interesting book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been written in prison by a remorseful Ken Perenyi.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    The author barely made it through high school, but he was harboring a genius for art, chemistry, and history. I was astounded at the art he was able to create and how he figured out how to fool the experts into thinking his paintings were old masterpieces. He also benefited from a lot of luck, as he should have been caught many times. In the end, the statute of limitations wore out by the time he switched over to only selling his works as reproductions. I imagine the FBI allowed their investigat The author barely made it through high school, but he was harboring a genius for art, chemistry, and history. I was astounded at the art he was able to create and how he figured out how to fool the experts into thinking his paintings were old masterpieces. He also benefited from a lot of luck, as he should have been caught many times. In the end, the statute of limitations wore out by the time he switched over to only selling his works as reproductions. I imagine the FBI allowed their investigation to end because the publicity from a trial would have ruined some of the big auction houses and the reputations of the experts. Extremely interesting reading!

  18. 4 out of 5

    BarbaraW

    Thought this was a fun unusual read. I got caught up in how the author pulled this off!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    As a teenager, Ken Perenyi was an aimless youth, with no interest in school or his future. He barely graduates from trade school and does not learn a trade. Had it not been for some artist he befriends in an old mansion in New Jersey, he would have had no interest at all. There are wild parties, club hopping, lots of getting high and at some point Perenyi shows an interest in art and painting. His friends take him to museums and educate him in the world of art. He learns to paint and while viewi As a teenager, Ken Perenyi was an aimless youth, with no interest in school or his future. He barely graduates from trade school and does not learn a trade. Had it not been for some artist he befriends in an old mansion in New Jersey, he would have had no interest at all. There are wild parties, club hopping, lots of getting high and at some point Perenyi shows an interest in art and painting. His friends take him to museums and educate him in the world of art. He learns to paint and while viewing some of the old master paintings in museums, young Perenyi decides he could make those paintings himself. He first paints in the style of "Dutch" painters and his friends, some of them mobsters, sell his paintings and take a cut of the profits. He later finds a greater market for the style of early American artist. Ken Perenyi makes a rather lucrative living as an art forger for over 30 years but all of that came to an end when the FBI came to his door. Perenyi goes into great detail when describing the techniques used to make accurate forgeries, down to the wood panels used from old furniture and even recreating fly droppings on the surface. And he is very prolific at producing paintings. As many as two a week when the need arises. But when it comes to the characters in the book including and especially Perenyi, the reader learns next to nothing. Nothing about his character, except he felt no guilt about defrauding buyers. It reads more like a laundry list of deeds but no details of feelings or thoughts. The writing is not great, mostly a conversational style with lots of name dropping. Also missing is any excitement of doing something illegal and the possibility of being caught. Perenyi just mass produces forgeries like a baker making bread and his friends sell them and he gets rich. By the time the Feds catch up to him they are too late because the statute of limitations is running out. Amazing that it took the FBI so long to figure out that the glut of "newly discovered" paintings showing up in New York, Miami and London by a few long dead artist were produced by one man. Ho hum.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scot

    It's almost as if two different people wrote the first and second halves of this book. The first half is written sort of stream of consciousness, with no editing and little sense of style or organization. It has a lot of celebrity name dropping and is chockablock with curious or unbelievable anecdotes told in an amateurish way--which leads me to believe much of it must be true, because why would anyone make up such unconnected and odd claims? Perenyi's colorful life among the hipsters, the avant It's almost as if two different people wrote the first and second halves of this book. The first half is written sort of stream of consciousness, with no editing and little sense of style or organization. It has a lot of celebrity name dropping and is chockablock with curious or unbelievable anecdotes told in an amateurish way--which leads me to believe much of it must be true, because why would anyone make up such unconnected and odd claims? Perenyi's colorful life among the hipsters, the avant garde, the Mafia, his mixing with Andy Warhol and other patrons at Max's gives way, in the second half of the book, to a more clearly articulated and more interesting guide for becoming an internationally successful art forger across several genres of art. Added bonuses in that section are a review of what is distinctive about several of these subgenres (such as the hummingbird paintings of Heade or the still lifes of Peto), descriptions of a carefree elitist life based in London, and a character study of Roy Cohn that provides a fascinating if suspect counterpoint to the monster of a man he was as depicted in the great play Angels in America.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Allan Kaplan

    Another writer called this "tawdry," and that really describes it. What a lousy book, written by an even lousier person. Perenyi is really a loser who takes advantage of any person and any situation that serves him; he's a real scumbag. If he'd really had talent, he could have really made it, considering the people and contacts who purports to have known, but he hung out with deadbeats and blew every honest opportunity he ever had. I've read that the book was ghostwritten for him, and that makes Another writer called this "tawdry," and that really describes it. What a lousy book, written by an even lousier person. Perenyi is really a loser who takes advantage of any person and any situation that serves him; he's a real scumbag. If he'd really had talent, he could have really made it, considering the people and contacts who purports to have known, but he hung out with deadbeats and blew every honest opportunity he ever had. I've read that the book was ghostwritten for him, and that makes perfect sense - the style is just a poorly, unimaginatively written recounting of events that so many autobiographies take, and the book does nothing to engender Perenyi to the reader. He's a scumbag, and I truly wish that the FBI had prosecuted him and thrown away the key. As it is, he cheated his way through life and sales of this book will only help him live the empty life he's established at the expense of others. What an asshole.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marci Mac

    I agree with most reviews stating that the writing is bland and because of it, the first few chapters are very hard to get through. But once he starts talking about art, passion and knowledge take over and make for an exciting story with a wonderful voice. For me, my conceptions of bad and simple writing disappeared when he met Sonny the art restorer and Jimmy the American Art expert. After those key moments, which unfortunately takes about 1/5 of the book to get to, the life of true forgery and I agree with most reviews stating that the writing is bland and because of it, the first few chapters are very hard to get through. But once he starts talking about art, passion and knowledge take over and make for an exciting story with a wonderful voice. For me, my conceptions of bad and simple writing disappeared when he met Sonny the art restorer and Jimmy the American Art expert. After those key moments, which unfortunately takes about 1/5 of the book to get to, the life of true forgery and the art/science behind it is entered. It's absolutely fascinating. As a warning, there is a lot of build up in this book, yet there isn't a real climax. For those who like fireworks at the end of a story, this is not for you. For the readers who can take a story for what it is, it is a good one that I am sure you will enjoy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    Poorly written. Didn’t finish. I started this book sometime ago and wasn’t enjoying it so I quit. Finding it on my Kindle not finished I thought I’d give it another shot. I love a good heist/swindle story and the premise (a real life forger) is very intriguing. I lasted one chapter. The writing is simply terrible. I checked out some other reader reviews after bailing and even people recommending the book complained about the quality of the writing. If you can read through the amateurish, self con Poorly written. Didn’t finish. I started this book sometime ago and wasn’t enjoying it so I quit. Finding it on my Kindle not finished I thought I’d give it another shot. I love a good heist/swindle story and the premise (a real life forger) is very intriguing. I lasted one chapter. The writing is simply terrible. I checked out some other reader reviews after bailing and even people recommending the book complained about the quality of the writing. If you can read through the amateurish, self congratulatory, first person prose there may be some interesting stuff here. I could not press through. Instead I recommend watching a couple episodes of White Collar. There you will find fun clever writing about an American forger. Bonus, you get to watch Matt Boomer.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kasandra

    Fabulously entertaining and full of detail about how he pulled off more than 30 years of forgeries, Perenyi illuminates the world of art dealers, collectors, and auction houses in a way that will most likely make you not feel quite so bad for those people who bought his works, believing they were authentic. Great photos in the book, and an envious description of a rollicking lifestyle in New York, Miami, and London from the late 60s onward.

  25. 5 out of 5

    W. Frazier

    This book is an autobiography of a con man, a hustler and forger, whose natural bent towards art defines his career. Obviously talented, the author crafts his story with interesting details about art history and art restoration, and gives clever insights into the business of art collecting. On the negative side, his flippant ownership of everything nefarious casts a subtle "ew" factor. At the end, you are left with an uneasy feeling, as maybe you are part of another con. This book is an autobiography of a con man, a hustler and forger, whose natural bent towards art defines his career. Obviously talented, the author crafts his story with interesting details about art history and art restoration, and gives clever insights into the business of art collecting. On the negative side, his flippant ownership of everything nefarious casts a subtle "ew" factor. At the end, you are left with an uneasy feeling, as maybe you are part of another con.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Simon Scott

    This is an exhilarating ride that at times stretches credibility to breaking point. Perenyi appears to have led a charmed life, both in chance encounters that paved the way to his career as a forger, and luck in evading detection by the authorities. Early on in the book, for example, Ken co-opts infamous mob and Trump lawyer Roy Cohn to prevent his apartment block getting turned into a rehab centre. Knowing that con-men (the art of successful forging always involving the art of the con) rarely m This is an exhilarating ride that at times stretches credibility to breaking point. Perenyi appears to have led a charmed life, both in chance encounters that paved the way to his career as a forger, and luck in evading detection by the authorities. Early on in the book, for example, Ken co-opts infamous mob and Trump lawyer Roy Cohn to prevent his apartment block getting turned into a rehab centre. Knowing that con-men (the art of successful forging always involving the art of the con) rarely make the most reliable of narrators, I couldn't continue reading until I'd fact-checked the episode. Happily, I managed to find a more-or-less exact recounting of the story in contemporaneous coverage in the NY Times. I'm not done checking out some of the other events in the book but suspect that if there's any retouching here it will be in small details rather than the bigger picture. Little detail is given to Perenyi's development as an artist. It's largely suggested that he enjoyed drawing as a child, and due to a lucky encounter was encouraged in late adolescence to pursue his art further, even providing cover-art for an edition of the notorious 'zine Oz. To his credit he does talk about developing throughout the thirty years spent forging works, but there's a sense that he arrived, in the late seventies, more or less fully developed, something I found harder to believe than the Cohn story. I've read quite a few books on forgers, and this is the first one where the forger seems to be properly enjoying himself, largely because Perenyi seems to view it not as some great statement, a snook cocked at the art establishment, but purely as a way of earning money, and a joy in and of itself. He goes into a surprising level of detail on technical aspects of forgery, avoiding the usual tendency forgers have of protecting their secrets. The hardback edition pictured features four banks of plates demonstrating Perenyi's skills, even showing off the attention he gave to the backs of his paintings. Sadly, the book ends with a tantalising mystery for which there is no solution given. It is a mystery that Perenyi is facing along with us. He doesn't provide the answer because he doesn't have the answer. This frustration at the end of what has been an exciting journey, does leave you wanting more, but that desire for more is very much in the spirit of Perenyi's career, always hungry for the next artist to add to his repertoire.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Frode

    This book was well written and quite a story, but it was not the lifestyle I would want to live. The story is biographical and proceeds chronologically. Ken's early years were not too promising. He did not do well in school and didn't have much focus, but he discovered an interest in art and had great talent. That talent was put to use for his livelihood, albeit in a fashion apart from most artists. Ken was a keen student of former artists and was able to see patterns in their paintings which he This book was well written and quite a story, but it was not the lifestyle I would want to live. The story is biographical and proceeds chronologically. Ken's early years were not too promising. He did not do well in school and didn't have much focus, but he discovered an interest in art and had great talent. That talent was put to use for his livelihood, albeit in a fashion apart from most artists. Ken was a keen student of former artists and was able to see patterns in their paintings which he was able to reproduce. The key was not to copy a picture directly but to take elements from two or three pictures and make a new piece in the manner of the previous artist. He was quite clever in this, and along with his interest in antique furniture, he was able to accumulate the necessary information and materials to do his own masterpieces. Of course they were fakes, but they were such good fakes they passed as originals. He was obviously a very good painter. Along the way Ken met some people who for various reasons liked him and exposed him to various types of art and to collectors and dealers. It was all a win for Ken to have such contacts, and he profited from these folks in various ways. Of course, many of them made good money selling his paintings as well. Did they know they were selling fakes? Some did, some suspected, and some had no clue. He was able to fool even the experts. The book is about painting, and Ken knows his stuff. I read of artists I had never heard of except perhaps in a long forgotten art appreciation class in college. The book also gives an inside view of the art collecting world and auction houses and antique dealers. The view is not particularly complimentary. Lots of people get taken advantage of because of their ignorance when buying antiques and old paintings. Such is life. Mom told me many a time that a fool and his money are soon parted. The title of the book says it all. I liked the book and thought it was an eye-opener. Ken's personal life was a bit raw. Some of his escapades were immoral, and some of his friends were not really nice people, so I would not recommend young or squeamish readers for this book. Nonetheless, it is an education about the art world to read the book. Oh, does he get caught in the end? You will have to read the book to get that answer.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Smith

    Ken Perenyi was a charismatic guy who fell in with some artsy drug addicts who taught him to paint and got him interested in historical art. To feed their drug addiction, the addicts stole and resold art and antiques. Meanwhile Ken got to be a pretty talented artist and art restorer, and eventually he realized he could forge historical art rather than boosting it, so he started doing that. He was wildly successful and developed many innovative techniques, which he describes. Despite several clos Ken Perenyi was a charismatic guy who fell in with some artsy drug addicts who taught him to paint and got him interested in historical art. To feed their drug addiction, the addicts stole and resold art and antiques. Meanwhile Ken got to be a pretty talented artist and art restorer, and eventually he realized he could forge historical art rather than boosting it, so he started doing that. He was wildly successful and developed many innovative techniques, which he describes. Despite several close brushes with getting caught and a sweeping FBI investigation that identified him and many of his accomplices and forgeries, the statute of limitations eventually ran out and he escaped without ever doing time. This book is his celebratory memoir of a life of crimes committed without serious consequences. I picked this book up because I was hoping for some insight into the psychology of a forger. I found it somewhat useful for that purpose. Perenyi wasn't born a sociopath, I don't think. Instead, as an adolescent he fell in with a crowd of posh criminals whose approval he craved, and soon much of his social life revolved around crime. He describes how rooming with a small-time burglar named Tony totally distorted his view of reality; it began to seem like maybe this was normal, and everyone lived like this. While I don't think Perenyi was born with sociopathic tendencies, he certainly developed some over time. He relished the thrill of cheating people, the glamour of befriending criminal bigwigs, the ego boost of feeling smarter than the experts and the police, and of course the security of having wealth. Of course, the disturbing aspect of the book is that Perenyi never did time. This is not because he was good at keeping secrets. He had quite a few criminal accomplices who knew exactly what he was up to, and he befriended new ones and let them in on his secret with startling ease. (I kept thinking, “how do so many of these people find and recognize and befriend each other without ever confiding in the wrong person and giving away the game?”) Some of these accomplices turned states' evidence, but ultimately it wasn't enough. Perenyi got away with it all simply because he had good lawyers, because the evidentiary standards to convict him were high, and because in subtle ways the big auction houses abetted his crimes.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Pittar

    Eye Opener as Well as Interesting. Every now and then, when I buy my bundle of books for the month, I try to buy a couple out of my comfort zone. To expand my range. To take a bite of something I would not normally taste.. this was one of those. I love art, most of it gladdens my soul, even if I don’t like it, I appreciate that someone feels strongly enough to express their soul in some media or other. The author tells his story of his life and of his journey/adventure into art deception and forge Eye Opener as Well as Interesting. Every now and then, when I buy my bundle of books for the month, I try to buy a couple out of my comfort zone. To expand my range. To take a bite of something I would not normally taste.. this was one of those. I love art, most of it gladdens my soul, even if I don’t like it, I appreciate that someone feels strongly enough to express their soul in some media or other. The author tells his story of his life and of his journey/adventure into art deception and forgery. He must have been talented to start with, a nascent artist, most students start by copying old masters or other greats. He copied some so as to be indistinguishable from the real thing. He worked for a restorer, and learned how to re engineer the process. For someone who failed school, avoided the draft and effectively made himself unemployable- he is highly motivated, talented, hard working and capable of working long hours. His attention to detail obsessive, when working, dedicated. His ability to make friends, of all strata of society, a natural ability. He skims over personal relationships, one in particular, I think, was devastating sad when it ended in tragedy. At one point he mused that he had been born two centuries too late. I think I have to agree. He would have been a celebrated artist in his own right then. He opened up the can of nasty worms that is the world of art auctions, art houses, art sales, art dealers... we got a whiff of the decadence and corruption. He quickly untangled their “ warranties “ and “ guarantees “ to his advantage. It seems, so far, touch a gilded 18thCwooden frame, the authorities have left him alone. Goodness knows what would happen if the extent of his output of paintings over the years were finally known...... I enjoyed this book. A glimpse into life in America’s art world in the 1960s to 1990s. Peeps of Andy Warhol, studio54, London’s Kings Road, Chelsea, Miami in the 1980s - all pre AIDS. Don’t read it if you have a Heade Hummingbird painting. Just don’t.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maria Paiz

    I did not expect this book to be so enthralling! Ken Perenyi recounts his life story as a painter who mastered the art of forgery, producing such high quality fakes that world-famous auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's mistook his artwork for that of old Dutch, American and British painters, such as Martin Johnson Heade, James E. Buttersworth, and Thomas Gainsborough, among others. Perenyi did not copy known works; instead, he closely studied the styles of the old masters, and then c I did not expect this book to be so enthralling! Ken Perenyi recounts his life story as a painter who mastered the art of forgery, producing such high quality fakes that world-famous auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's mistook his artwork for that of old Dutch, American and British painters, such as Martin Johnson Heade, James E. Buttersworth, and Thomas Gainsborough, among others. Perenyi did not copy known works; instead, he closely studied the styles of the old masters, and then created compositions in a similar vein, taking great care to use the correct materials, and age them artificially to make them appear old. Perenyi fooled the experts and was never caught, though he stopped his shenanigans after the FBI tried unsuccessfully to pin him down for his crimes. Finally, after the statute of limitations ran out, he wrote this autobiography as a very open and remorseless confession. It’s a very interesting book because, in addition to describing in fine detail how he convincingly aged his paintings to pass even ultraviolet light tests, he also takes us on a ride through the art scene of the 60s and 70s, where he met artists such as Andy Warhol that would later become icons of their times. Perenyi stumbled into the artistic life almost by chance, after meeting a gang of creative guys several years older than he, who introduced him to sex, drugs, art, and hustling in whatever way possible to make an easy buck. What’s most amazing to me is the realization of this man’s fantastic talent, to have been able to perfectly replicate the painting styles of so many famous masters. His story is fun to read and he’s still out there, making pictures. Truly enlightening.

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