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July 6, 2010 12:34 PM   Subscribe

The Mark of a Masterpiece. The company combined the forensic triumphalism of “C.S.I.” with the lottery ethos of “Antiques Roadshow.”

An in-depth profile of Peter Paul Biro, acclaimed forensic art authenticator featured in the 2006 documentary Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (previously), professional art restorer, swindler, con man, and art forger.
posted by shakespeherian (20 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like the idea of DNA testing. Who's your baby daddy's painting?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 PM on July 6, 2010


"Biro"?

Obviously a nom de plume.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


I award you one pun.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2010


The print version of the New Yorker includes a shot of the da Vinci.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:59 PM on July 6, 2010


Make that "alleged" Da Vinci....
posted by IndigoJones at 2:00 PM on July 6, 2010


I like the idea of DNA testing.

Yes, it's going to be the next big fad in certified-by-experts-yet-still-fake paintings. Biro really is keeping up with the cutting edge in that domain, good for him.
posted by splice at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great story. I think this anecdote is relevant.

In 1982 they had the first old-timers major league game in Washington DC. I went to it to see all of my heroes. Rain looked like it was going to postpone the game and it thinned out the crowd. I sat on the National League side making my way near the bench. There were Hank Aaron, Stan the Man, Warren Spahn, Mays, Mel Ott. (The American league side had DiMaggio, Mantle, Ted Williams, Whitey Ford, Feller...) Luke Appling, then 75, hit a home run.

Before the game a crowd mobbed above the area above the bench and tried to talk the players into signing a ball and throwing it their way. A couple of people were prepared, they came with balls to sign and tossed them near the dugout. They got tossed back with a dozen great signatures.

Now I had brought two balls to be signed, but a sense of melancholy had come over me. These heroes of mine, they were fine just existing. I didn't need their signatures. I kept the balls stuffed in my pockets.

When I got home, I signed one of the balls, Babe Ruth, and set it in a place where it probably wouldn't be discovered for fifty years. I think this anecdote is relevant...
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:21 PM on July 6, 2010


A number of years ago, a fingerprint examiner from Conroe, TX named Jimmy Chilcutt proclaimed that he would "stake his reputation" on textures from a putative Sasquatch footprint cast as being genuine dermal ridges.

Subsequent investigations by myself and others came to an entirely different conclusion, namely that the textures were naturally occurring artifacts of the plaster-casting process. Dr. Anton Wroblewski, a geologist and ichnologist, refers to them as "desiccation ridges."
posted by Tube at 2:25 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


IANA Art Expert but... How will this work for warhol? didn't he get others to (sometimes) paint his stuff? I also read that he wrote to Oxo (?) and got the name of their cardboard supplier and used the same cardboard for his Oxo boxes as they did. Is this right?
posted by marienbad at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2010


I just re-watched Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? the other day, and there was something very fishy about his techniques as portrayed in the documentary. Anyone who's done any science can tell that his methods not at all scientific. Makes me feel bad for that poor lady who thinks she has a Pollack.
posted by statolith at 2:40 PM on July 6, 2010


How will this work for warhol? didn't he get others to (sometimes) paint his stuff? I also read that he wrote to Oxo (?) and got the name of their cardboard supplier and used the same cardboard for his Oxo boxes as they did. Is this right?

The key to any artwork is provenance. An Oxo box is an Oxo box unless it has a piece of paper stating it was owned by someone, shown in such and such gallery and passed hands to whomever. The papers make it sounds like CSI work, but it really is not. I could not find details on the da Vinci portrait, but my guess is that he managed to track it and references to the painting even if he has a few blank years ... plus he apparently had fingerprint evidence. It is not as he found the painting, dusted it and came up with da Vinci's fingerprints.

This is what people who have no dealings in the art world don't seem to get. You might have a real painting, but if there was no record of it prior to you finding it and no really, really strong physical evidence (found while excavating da Vinci's workshop and carbon dated to his time, etc.), you really just have a nice painting. It might suck, but that's really the only way to keep fakes out ... and fakes still get in.
posted by geoff. at 3:34 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


A fascinating article. Thanks!
posted by ob at 3:48 PM on July 6, 2010


I could not find details on the da Vinci portrait, but my guess is that he managed to track it and references to the painting even if he has a few blank years ... plus he apparently had fingerprint evidence. It is not as he found the painting, dusted it and came up with da Vinci's fingerprints.

I recommend finishing the article-- there appears to be no provenance to the Leonardo drawing whatsoever, and there has been some substantial doubt cast as towards Biro's fingerprint techniques.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:48 PM on July 6, 2010


A really interesting article, and if you don't finish it you'll leave with the sense that this guy is legit, until the author completely deconstructs him.
posted by mecran01 at 5:07 PM on July 6, 2010


I saw the drawing in the link to the New Yorker, and it is clearly evident that this just is not a work by Leonardo. He just did not do portraits in profile, I can't find a single example, and I've studied Leonardo extensively. Leonardo was the master of perspective and even his simplest portrait drawings always have a dramatic presence in three dimensions. This one does not.

And I am getting awfully sick of those claims that a work follows Leonardo's facial proportions exactly. I got really sick of it when those people claimed that the Mona Lisa was Leonardo's self-portrait because it had the exact same facial dimensions as Leonardo's self-portrait. Well of course it does. Leonardo drew every face with the exact same proportions. He even wrote about it, and these proportions were quite well known in his day, and even in my days in art school, and were widely used and emulated by others. So claiming that a work is by Leonardo based on facial proportions following Leonardo's methods is utterly ridiculous, any decent artist can do that. Hell, I can do that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:41 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recommend finishing the article-- there appears to be no provenance to the Leonardo drawing whatsoever, and there has been some substantial doubt cast as towards Biro's fingerprint techniques.

Ah, I should have finished the New Yorker article before Googling the Leonardo painting! You're right, it does sound really, really suspect.
posted by geoff. at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2010


Interesting how he substituted one opaque authentication method for another. People who believed that he was bringing "science" to bear clearly didn't understand that the hallmark of science is transparency about one's method. Here's what I did, here's how I did it, see if you can do it too.

As soon as he said 'I found this fingerprint, but can't tell you how I found it', they should have known something stunk. Perhaps, however, it's easy to say that in retrospect.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 6:26 PM on July 7, 2010


The eternal hallmark (fingerprint/signature/DNA profile) of a con: If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

Fascinating article.
posted by bearwife at 5:15 PM on July 12, 2010


I read the link through the duplicate post which didn't mention outright that he was a fraud. All the while that I was reading, I thought it was so odd that a story that was seemingly full of praise for someone whose stated mission was to dismantle the rarefied aristocracy of the art world through the injection of cold impartial science would be published in The New Yorker. Then I finished reading.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:28 AM on July 13, 2010


Great article, and yeah, you have to read it all the way through.
posted by languagehat at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2010


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