Book Review: Anthony M. Amore’s The Art of the Con
For a change (and for potential research into a writing project I may or may not go through with), I decided to read up on some non-fiction about Art Crime, and … well, The Art of the Con was right there at the library, so here we are!
To be honest, I’m not that big of an art guy. A lot of this probably stems from an absolutely terrible Art History class everyone was required to take back during senior year of high school. I will admit, if I ever win the lottery, I might spring for some original Jack Kirby pages or something, because I am a nerd. Still, even without my interest, art is a big business, to the point where people will pay millions of dollars for certain paintings or sculptures. Naturally, with so much money flowing around, the art world draws all kinds of opportunists and con-men.
The Art of the Con is much like Will to Live. Structurally, at least. Where the chapters of Will to Live were different stories of survival, each chapter of The Art of the Con focuses on one particular criminal case or another. The biggest thing I learned from the book is actually stealing a painting is easy. Monetizing it afterwards is significantly harder. And while there are a bunch of different schemes shown in The Art of the Con, most of them boiled down to a simple formula.
1) Paint a forgery of a famous artist (or, barring that, hire some broke artist to do it for you)
2) Convince someone the forgery is legit, and sell it for a big pile of money.
Which in turn eventually leads to the next step:
4) Get arrested by the FBI once someone puts the forgery under an electron microscope and/or talks to an expert who says it’s fake. Then again, if nobody finds out about the crime, then nobody’s going to write a book about it. I’m sure there are even more forgeries with more stories behind them out there … they just haven’t been found yet.
Amore does quite well on listing the “what” of each case, detailing names, dates, and even a little bit of background on the artistic works in question that are being forged and/or fenced. It’s a little more shallow on the “how” of things. This makes sense, as it’s not like Amore was there first hand as the money and forgeries changed hands. Arguably, Step 2 is the most juicy part of the con to dig into, but Amore keeps everything at arm’s length. Just like how James Bond has nothing to do with actual espionage, or Indiana Jones with archeology, the actual business of crime is a lot more banal than all those heist movies would have you expect.
This isn’t to say it’s a boring book, as Amore highlights some particularly brazen forms of crime. In the juciest of the chapters, a lawyer finds a bunch of stolen paintings in the attic of a dead (former) client, and tries to ransom them off in a convoluted, multi-national scheme. In another, a woman sells her forgeries on a home shopping TV show.
All and all, The Art of the Con is a pretty interesting book. While there’s not enough in the pages to guide you to a life of crime (especially considering just about every chapter ends with someone getting arrested), it’s still quite educational, touching on both the criminal world and the artistic one.
And if nothing else, The Art of the Con taught me how to stay on my guard if I ever want to buy a Picasso or something.