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So a priest walks into an art museum...
January 22, 2011 5:18 AM   Subscribe

A Jesuit priest arrives at an art museum in a red Cadillac and parks across two handicap spaces. The frail man has a generous donation of artworks for the museum. He wants neither cash nor a tax receipt for his gift. The problem is, he isn't a priest and his donations are all forged.

Meet Mark Landis. While museums and galleries are spreading the word about what he does, it seems he can't be charged with a crime.

The difficulty is that, however annoying and disruptive Landis’s activities may be for museums, he does not seem to have broken the law. “The criminal statute [of fraud] says there must be a loss and that’s the problem. There hasn’t been a loss to any victim,” says Robert Wittman, an investigator who used to run the FBI’s Art Crime Team.
posted by Brodiggitty (46 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
This man needs a showing immediately.
And it sounds as if he's earned one.
posted by artof.mulata at 5:48 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The especially funny thing is that, after this guy passes away, he'll probably get his own exhibit somewhere.
posted by absalom at 5:55 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the tone that this should somehow be illegal. Even the use of the word victim. Victim of a gift?
posted by Nothing at 6:07 AM on January 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I love the "illegal" "this is wrong" tone taken by some of the "victims' too.. Looking a gift horse in the mouth comes to mind...

I picture petulant curators throwing greed tantrums when they find out they haven't hit the mother lode.

Great story, thanks!
posted by HuronBob at 6:19 AM on January 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why is this tagged "johnlandis"? This guy's a painter, not a director.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:19 AM on January 22, 2011


“In my experience with Jesuit priests and upper-crust wealthy donors, it’s not unusual to run into someone quirky,” Tullos says.

Man, that's a money quote right there. Around here people call Jesuits 'God's Marines.'

This post is what MetaFilter is for. Something interesting and quirky that people wouldn't have seen otherwise.
posted by fixedgear at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love this:
“Forgers tend to be embittered souls,” says Edward Dolnick, author of a book about Van Meegeren. “Typically, they start out as artists and nobody likes their stuff but they get appreciated when they put someone else’s name on it. That feels like proof that the art world is phony.”
posted by MegoSteve at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


I picture petulant curators throwing greed tantrums when they find out they haven't hit the mother lode.

That is probably the truth of it.

But it is still a sort of fraud, and it is a sort of wrong. Just because the greedy curators might deserve their comeuppance when they realize the stuff is phony, the whole act seems designed to create this false hope/desire/let down. When grandpa gives you a used sweater inside a computer box, no harm meant (usually). But when one of your asshole friends puts on a big show of giving you a gift, and you unwrap it and see an iPad box and go nuts, and then open the box to find a pair of socks, it is a different thing.

Not everyone thinks "Punk'd" was funny.
posted by gjc at 6:29 AM on January 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Not everything that's given is a gift:

“If you count up the time and resources people have spent on him, it runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says.

Given what I imagine the financial state of minor museums in America to be ("There were no royal ­collections, so our museums were created out of pride by residents. Many are still little places in little towns.”), I think it's perfectly fair for them to take this kind of thing seriously. I mean, petulant, greedy curators? This is their job. And except for Leininger, who has made it his mission to put a stop to Landis' antics, they all seem quite sympathetic to and even admiring of this odd little person - not vindictive. To me, it's clear how what Landis is doing is wrong, even if it's interesting. That said, it makes sense that it's not illegal.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:54 AM on January 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


What it does cost the museums is time, which is literal money in the case of salaried curators and expert employees. He is definitely open to civil action on those grounds, but probably hasn't been sued yet because the cost/benefit of perusing damages hasn't been above parity. If a museum ends up flying in a panel of expensive experts to verify one of his "gifts" he probably will wind up in court. Which would just be more publicity for him.

He's not the only one to be pulling this kind of stunt.
posted by clarknova at 7:01 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


What we need is some sort of Genuine Advantage software to catch these forgeries.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:19 AM on January 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


This post is what MetaFilter is for. Something interesting and quirky that people wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Quoted for truth.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:25 AM on January 22, 2011


A Jesuit priest arrives at an art museum in a red Cadillac and parks across two handicap spaces.

I feel like I should know a joke that begins this way.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:23 AM on January 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Not everyone thinks "Punk'd" was funny.

And "American Pie" still keeps playing on the radio, making Madonna more cash.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 8:25 AM on January 22, 2011


I know the guy is a bit of a troublemaker but he's such a good-natured oddball who loves his momma and daddy... he seems sweet and mostly harmless and I hope they never find a way to charge him with anything illegal. Sounds like he's had to slow way down anyway because too many people are onto him. I would think the paintings of a becoming-legendary forger would be cool for a museum to have, just as a curiosity.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:55 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to say, when I search for mental pictures of naked greed, the first images that springs to mind are curators of small, local museums!





Wait, what?
posted by kyrademon at 9:23 AM on January 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oops. The johnlandis tag was a brainfart. Could a mod fix that?
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:35 AM on January 22, 2011


Or I guess I cuold just fix it myself...
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:38 AM on January 22, 2011


The New York Times reported recently that Landis "seems to have disappeared altogether", but it did not take long to locate him.

Oh SNAP.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2011


Nothing wrote: I love the tone that this should somehow be illegal. Even the use of the word victim. Victim of a gift?

Victim of a deception. I wouldn't call a lie "a gift".

Let me make an analogy for you: You meet a fascinating person at a party. Turns out she (he, if you prefer) is a doctor, who's developed a new procedure for saving lives through a subtle surgical nuance. Fascinating! She really digs you. She thinks you are fascinating. She goes home with you. Night of passion. By morning, you're smitten. Completely falling. She invites you on a cruise next week with her.

You post about your new love on Facebook. Mention it to coworkers at the office. Ask for the time off. It's the busy season, but your boss reluctantly agrees.

The next night, a mutual acquaintance calls to drop the bomb: she's actually a married, stay-at-home housewife with two kids, who just used you for sex. She never returns your calls again.

You had your hopes up, and managed to make a fool of yourself, and risked problems at work, but - hey!, no harm done, right? All she did is lie, lead you on, and encourage you to make poor decisions with your business.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom, did you have a bad experience?

a lot of us would settle for that "night of passion"
posted by HuronBob at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2011


I can't help but be of two minds of this. There's no doubt this fellow's M.O. is no "gift" to any museum and I can't blame them for wanting him to give it up. The expressed desire of the one registrar to see him nailed by the law seems pretty meanspirited in the full context, but that one individual is seeing only an incredible spree of forgery, and may have had no idea when he said it that the man was mentally ill and really had no hidden financial agenda in his strange mission.

As well, it is probably no gift to this guy to ignore or enable what he is doing, which may very well feed into his mental problems. And while the way he expresses his mental illness seems harmlessly baroque to the point of being charming, mental problems are not pleasant or charming. The best thing for him might be to be exposed but get help as a result. I can't imagine his mental issues being ameliorated without him giving up this odd confidence racket. (In a similar vein I'm thinking of the exceptional transformation, with a little social intervention and human encouragement, of the amazing homeless Japanese artist in the documentary The Cats of Mirikatani).

On the other hand, when the other end of the scale of crazies acting out is the serial bomb mailer or the random shooting spree, the idea of sending the law after this character seems genuinely obscene. It also seems as if his forgery-gifting expeditions might be the only way he gets out of his house or encounters anyone outside his limited sphere, and it's depressing to think of him trapped inside there now, frightened of getting in trouble, turning inward and getting sicker. Though I also find it hard to believe he will be able to stop himself indefinitely. A new character, new persona, different targets. I hope there is some help to be found for him.
posted by nanojath at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom - But wait, I get a night of passion with what sounds like a lovely and fascinating woman... I could only wish people would go to all that trouble to use me for my body (which is double flattering in a way).
posted by Jezztek at 11:01 AM on January 22, 2011


Reminds me of the divine solids in Uccello...
posted by chavenet at 11:03 AM on January 22, 2011


If you read museum related mailing lists and blogs, as I do, you would have heard about this guy already, as people started spreading the word so other curators would not be fooled by him. Unsung great artist he is not, though. In case you missed this bit in the New York Times article I will quote it here: The Hilliard said it discovered the forgery within hours, using a microscope to find a printed template beneath the paint. So really, he gets off on making curators at smaller museums excited over glorified paint-by-numbers art. Yeah, I'm really impressed with his charming oddball ways (heh).

One of the running "not exactly a joke" things we discuss on museum-related message boards is how to survive on a diet of ramen noodles if you go into a career at a museum. The majority of people do it for the love of art, because unless you are a curator at the Met, your salary and budget and staffing level will be small, and your average day will be very long (and you will work lots of weekends and extra hours trying to keep things afloat). Greedy petulant curators are so *not* the reality in the museum world.
posted by gudrun at 11:29 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


It probably helps that he lives in the South where, as we are reminded, there is a certain fondness for eccentrics.
posted by Anitanola at 11:34 AM on January 22, 2011


ah, come on, gudrun... you can be greedy, petulant, and hungry all at the same time... in fact, i suspect those traites fit well together!
posted by HuronBob at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2011


I really liked this line:

There’s not much to being a priest. Some comforting words, that sort of thing. And a blessing.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:29 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


. By his own account, he had spent nigh on three decades forging and donating paintings as a tribute to his parents. It had become his life’s work and he did not want to stop.

Good for him! He sounds wonderful.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2011


Fascinating!
posted by Splunge at 1:04 PM on January 22, 2011


HuronBob, I know a lot more curators than you do. I have worked in the museum world for 30 years. I am not a curator, but I know many curators, both in my museum and elsewhere. Greedy, petulant and hungry is not how I would characterize the majority of them, no.
posted by gudrun at 1:38 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup, I knew as soon as I posted it: no matter what the downside, if I used sex as a metaphor, some males would chime in about how it's all good as long as they got laid.

Jezztek & HuronBob didn't disappoint.

Sorry the metaphor wasn't useful for you guys. Maybe I'll use one involving wam beer and soggy cheeze curls, next time.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:30 PM on January 22, 2011


Has nobody ever started a Gallery of Fakes? The gimmick factor alone would probably get me to go.
posted by Ritchie at 4:12 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup, I knew as soon as I posted it: no matter what the downside, if I used sex as a metaphor...

Sometimes I like to troll on the weekends, too.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:33 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and then write follow-up posts to my troll.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love this, because it's such a beautiful implementation of Pratchett's idea of anticrime.

To quote the L-space wiki: 'Anti-crime mainly consists of what we consider charitable or "good" acts, but done in a way so as to inflict shame and humiliation on the victim.'
posted by Pinback at 5:05 PM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This post is what MetaFilter is for. Something interesting and quirky that people wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Quoted for truth.


I thought it was for pulling stories off of Slashdot and Reddit?
posted by gjc at 7:15 PM on January 22, 2011


A Jesuit priest arrives at an art museum in a red Cadillac and parks across two handicap spaces.

I feel like I should know a joke that begins this way.


In high school, we called it the start of the class field trip.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:24 PM on January 22, 2011


For people who are interested, a lot of museums have done exhibits about fakes and forgeries. There is one going on now at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Here's a story about the exhibit. The National Gallery in London just had an exhibit called "Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes, Discoveries." The website for that one is still up. The Royal Ontario Museum just had the exhibit "Fakes & Forgeries Yesterday and Today." You can read an interview with the curator. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London had a recent exhibit "The Metropolitan Police Service's Investigation of Fakes and Forgeries", which focused on the forger, Shaun Greenhalgh.
posted by gudrun at 10:28 PM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is IAmBroom suggesting women who lie to get sex ought to be charged with fraud?

I find this more amusing than anything else; if the work is as simple as paint-by-numbers I'm surprised a competant curator can't tell it's a fake at a glance.

But then forgeries fascinate and depress me; they fascinate me because I'd love to have the spare money to get a top-notch forger to knock up some copies of various bits of great art I like to hang on the walls, and I wonder why more people don't; and they depress me when I consider the selfish, miserable shits who pay for stolen great works so they can squirrel them away and have them all to themselves, because those folks could afford to have a nigh-indistinguishable copy of their own without depriving the rest of us of the pleasure of the original.
posted by rodgerd at 1:59 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


the last thing in the world i want to see is someone penning a law to make this behavior illegal. the next-to-the-last thing in the world i want to see is people forgiving landis' behavior because he's offbeat & eccentric. it's calculated, intentional deception. and that's no way to treat other human beings.
posted by msconduct at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2011


John Walker, the first chief curator of the National Gallery of Art, said something memorable about the delicate relationship between museum curators and would-be donors, and the need for the curator to develop his schmooze tactics:

He was forthright about his duty to curry favor for donations. ''In the United States,'' he wrote in his autobiography, ''it is axiomatic that the undertaker and the museum director arrive almost simultaneously.''
posted by virago at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2011


rodgerd: Is IAmBroom suggesting women who lie to get sex ought to be charged with fraud?

No.

I merely made the mistake of underestimating how puerile some metafites were.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:21 AM on January 24, 2011


It's like Elmyr de Hory meets Bansky.
posted by Theta States at 8:08 AM on January 24, 2011


It should also be said that it costs a lot of money to insure masterpieces...
posted by Theta States at 9:20 AM on January 24, 2011


Mark Landis donated three forgeries to the museum where I work in July 2009, under the name Steven Gardiner. They were identified as forgeries as a result of this article. Photos of two of them. They are a woodcut on silk ribbon and a handcoloured engraved playing card. I don't have a photo of the third item, but it is an oil portrait on paper of General Jackson meant to have been made around 1830.

I have zero experience with forgeries (as far as I know, other than these), and it never would have occurred to me that these weren't authentic pieces. They're certainly not "simple...paint by numbers."

Anyway, interesting story. I wish I had met the guy when he came here!
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:23 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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