Here’s some justice for the art world: Eric Ian Spoutz, a fairly well-known art dealer in Michigan, was arrested this week in California for selling fake masterpiece artworks. The federal complaint filed against him says that Spoutz sold dozens of works he falsely claimed to be genuine and used false documents to prove the works’ “authenticity.” Now, Spoutz could face up to 20 years in prison.
Spoutz, 32, is accused of using “fictitious provenance to peddle his forged artwork to unsuspecting buyers, claiming they were masterpieces from Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Spoutz is also charged with a single count of wire fraud.
Works the dealer has sold hang in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museums of American Art and American History; Dartmouth College; The Library of Congress; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; George Washington University; and the Kinsey institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, as well as several other places.
Even up until last week Spoutz kept his charade going. He claimed to have organized a collection of photographs from movie history for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which he had been promoting. This is likely a false claim.
Additionally, Spoutz claimed to be the nephew of Ian Hornak, a 20th century printmaker who is heralded as the father of photorealism. Hornak died in 2002, but Spoutz kept the claim on his resume, adding that he was appointed executor of Hornak’s estate upon Hornak’s death. Spoutz also operated under several aliases, among other fictions.
“Spoutz created an entire world of fiction to make a profit,” said Diego Rodriguez, an FBI assistant director in New York. Spoutz’s world started to become unraveled in 2013 when he tried to sell two fake Joan Mitchell works to a New York buyer for $12,000, but the buyer grew suspicious when he saw that Spoutz’s PayPal account was registered to someone named Robert Smith. Spoutz claimed that Robert Smith was his partner.
Spoutz had been selling works as “attributed” to different artists, a term used when an art expert believes a work is original. Whether that claim is true remains to be seen.
“The only real thing in this situation seems to be the financial losses the victims have incurred for purchasing what they thought were true works of art, whether for investment purposes or personal enjoyment,” Rodriguez added.