Longform

Fake Art, Real Money

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The most valuable painting he owns is titled Idilio (1938), by Antonio Rodriguez Morey, a Spaniard who moved to Cuba with his family when he was sixteen, according to Ramos. "I have investigated the whole life of Rodriguez Morey directly from his family," he says, "plus everything that's in books." In explaining how he managed to acquire Idilio, Ramos relates that although Rodriguez Morey was once the director of Cuba's National Museum of Fine Arts, the painting didn't end up there. "He left it to his family, in their house, and told them that if one day they needed money, they could sell the painting." A daughter of Rodriguez Morey had refused to sell it, but eventually Ramos bought it from the artist's grandchildren during a trip to Cuba. "I am recovering a period of art that has been erased for the past 50 years," he says.

Ramos maintains that when he first embarked on his project more than a decade ago, Cernuda told him he was crazy, that he'd be better off buying real estate. Nonetheless he has managed to show his paintings at the Cornell Museum of Art and History in Delray Beach, the San Carlos Institute in Key West, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and the Forge restaurant in Miami Beach.

"What happened is that we became competitors," Ramos says of Cernuda. "He opened his gallery [in 2000] and started saying that everything I sell is fake. Every time a collector buys a painting from me and he sees it, he says it is fake."

He was familiar with three of the six alleged fakes among Cernuda's Art Miami selections because he claims to have seen each one before, on three separate occasions over the past four years. In each case, Ramos asserts, a different prospective seller sent him a snapshot-size photo of the painting, and then he saw it in person. He says he rejected all three as fakes.

As evidence they're fakes, he presents snapshots he received of each of the three paintings. For starters, he says, two of the paintings in the photos -- the Mesa nude and Atardecer (ca. 1910) by Antonio Rodriguez Morey -- are not signed. These three paintings are identical to the ones Cernuda had on display at Art Miami, he claims, except Cernuda's were signed. The landscape painting in the third photo, listed as Paisaje (1930) by Antonio Sanchez Araujo in Cernuda's catalogue, is signed, but Ramos alleges it was actually painted by an artist named Diego Guevara.

He says he can tell that the three other paintings he questions, including the Chartrand, are not authentic just by looking at them. For example, regarding the 1915 Gumersindo Barea still life titled Florero (Vase), Ramos says, "I don't think that painter could have painted it. That's my opinion. All of the work of Gumersindo Barea is watercolor. And everything he painted in oil was waterscapes and landscapes. Those flowers aren't from Cuba -- it's very strange. But I don't have photos or proof."

Ramos repeats that he doesn't believe Cernuda would deliberately sell forgeries. "I think there is someone in this town who dedicates himself to selling fake paintings," he ventures, "and who takes advantage of the fact that Ramon doesn't know anything about art from that period and sold [the paintings] to him cheap."

Gallery owner Gary Nader, while questioning Cernuda's expertise, views Ramos as just another dealer posing as an expert whose opinions are further besmirching the image of the local art community. "What makes him an expert? Because he owns 50 paintings?" Nader sputters. "The guy came in a boat, he came with twenty paintings, and he sold them. He made money and he keeps buying and selling. That makes him an expert? He's trying to do a good job, but from there to an expert? Does he really know what he's doing?

"Sorry, this is not like in the land of the blind," he goes on, "where the man with one eye is king. No, no, it doesn't happen like that with art. There are too many mistakes made in Miami. That's why there are so many galleries that open and close and why there are so many collectors who don't collect anymore, because they've been misguided. And it affects everybody else. It affects people like me who have been 30 years in the business."

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen