When Entrepreneurs Foul Their Nests
When Your Name Is on Everything, You Can't Be Too Careful
March 30, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 25
IN THE NEWS
Dark clouds gather over 'Painter of Light'
Entrepreneur artist who hangs in one in 20 US homes accused of fraud and drunken antics
Art critics have long dismissed [Thomas Kinkade's] work as a kitsch crime against aesthetics. But now the world has grown even more "unsympathetic and complex" for the artist, who describes himself as a devout Christian and has trademarked his "Painter of Light" sobriquet. In court documents and other testimony, he has been accused of sexual harassment, fraudulent business practices and bizarre incidents of drunkenness including a habit of "ritual territory marking" that involves urinating in public places.
—Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian (UK), March 25, 2006
The selling of fine art—finding one buyer for one work of art—is the ultimate business challenge.
Actually, two art markets exist. The first is for the very rich—the world of Sotheby's, Christie's, the Armory Antiques Show and the hotshot galleries of Madison Avenue, Chicago's Magnificent Mile and the Santa Fe Arts Trail.
For the rest of us, the individual artist's reach has been extended through the invention of "multiple-originals"—limited-edition, signed prints, etchings, drypoints, offset lithographs, posters, mezzotints and intaglios.
Over the last 40 years, two world famous artists with massive marketing machines behind them have dominated the world of multiple originals—Thomas Kinkade and Salvador Dali.
One is currently in serious trouble.
The other gave new meaning to the term "rip-off artist."
"There's over 40 walls in the average American home," a business manager for the artist Thomas Kinkade once said, "and Thom says our job is to figure out how to populate every single wall in every single home and every single business throughout the world with his paintings."
—Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian (UK), March 25, 2006
It has been estimated that Kinkade's work hangs in one out of 20 U.S. homes and is very likely the world's most collected living artist. Calling himself the "Painter of Light," Kinkade is loved for his soft-hued paintings of town and country scenes and America's wilderness—often enveloped in mist or fog that implies the Holy Spirit is among us—and his patriotic themes make the wings of the eagle flutter.
Kinkade's official Web site describes him as "a devoted husband and doting father to their four daughters" and extols his devout Christianity. In a 2004 video, he said, "When I got saved, God became my art agent."
A look inside Kinkade's marketing apparatus was found in Oliver Burkeman's Guardian (UK) story of March 25, 2006:
The cost of a Kinkade print changes depending on whether it is on paper or on canvas, and unsigned or signed; certain versions are "retired" from the market at critical moments to give them scarcity value. A team of "master illuminators" at Kinkade's galleries charge yet more to add real paint to his prints, enhancing his trademark glowing light effect on works with names such as Sunset on Lamplight Lane and Cobblestone Christmas. The pictures are also available in numerous other forms, printed on teddy bears, cushions, lounger chairs, T-shirts and Bible covers.
In February 2006, Kinkade's company was ordered by a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Association to pony up $860,000 as payment for defrauding the owners of two Thomas Kinkade galleries in Virginia. The panel found that his firm breached "the covenant of good faith and dealing" by painting "an unrealistic and misleading picture of the prospects of success for a dealer." Kinkade came out the victor in two other claims, but six more are pending.
If the media can find weaknesses in an icon, they become like a dog with a bone. In a 3,000-word expose of Thomas Kinkade in The Los Angeles Times of March 5, 2006, Kim Christensen depicted Kinkade as a ruthless businessman, who has been accused of dishonesty and stock manipulation. Also described in excruciating detail is his lurid and bizarre behavior that is 180-degrees from the hearth-hugging, God-fearing gentle soul that shines through his art.
Included are stories of Kinkade's heavy drinking, disrupting a Sigfried & Roy show in Las Vegas, cussing out the wife one of his executives that tried to help him after he fell off a bar stool, fondling a female guest at a signing party, and urinating on a Winnie the Pooh statue at a Disneyland Hotel and yelling, "This one's for you, Walt."
The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman suggested that Kinkade's entire business enterprise is threatened with destabilization. But this is tame stuff compared to the antics of a very wicked Spaniard.
Salvador Dali—The Ultimate Rip-off Artist
In 1977 I saw an ad from Jean-Paul Loup, an art dealer in Chicago offering a signed and numbered Salvador Dali lithograph of Venice for $375. I wrote the dealer who sent me an 8" x 10" color photograph of the piece and an effusive letter that said in part:
"…if a lithograph of that size would be available in an average American gallery, it would sell for $600.00 to $850.00."
Because it was so cheap, my wife, Peggy, and I assumed it was a forgery, but we liked the image and sent our $375 for the print, which we still have and still believe to be a forgery. The Certificate of Authenticity states that this limited edition consists of 395 signed and numbered lithographs of Rives Paper and 55 signed artist's proofs of Rives paper. The document stated:
THESE LITHOGRAPHS WERE PULLED BY THE OFFSET PROCESS IN 1975 BY ARTS-LITHO, MASTER PRINTERS IN PARIS, FRANCE. A TOTAL OF SIXTEEN COLORS WERE REQUIRED FOR EACH LITHOGRAPH. THE SIXTEEN LITHOGRAPH PLATES WERE DESTROYED UPON COMPLETION. THEREFORE, NO FURTHER EDITION WILL EVER BE PULLED. EVERY SINGLE LITHOGRAPH HAS BEEN APPROVED AND HAND-SIGNED BY SALVADOR DALI.
Fast forward to March 18, 2006. You can purchase this print on eBay for $799.99. The eBay description:
Artist: Salvador Dali
Retail Price: $ 2525.00
Sale Price: $799.99
Image Size: 22 3/4" x 31 1/4" Unframed
Summary: 1000 Prints in Edition
Comments: Signed and Numbered
The sixteen color offset lithograph was created in 1975 by Dali as a fundraiser to help finance the restoration of Venice. The limited edition print was produced by the master printers Imprimerie Artistique Bellini, Paris, France. . . A total of sixteen colors were required for each lithograph. These lithographic plates were destroyed upon completion of the printing. This beautiful art print comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
One of these lithographs--mine or eBay's--is obviously a fake. Were the 16 plates ever destroyed? Personally, I think they are both fakes. Peggy and I spent a ton of money on a frame and lighting. The picture sings. We love it! When anybody asks what this is, I say that it is our Salvador Dali fake.
In point of fact, if you Google "Dali" AND "Venice" you will come up with this image at various prices, each with its own highly suspect provenance.
A Curious Find in the Direct Mail Archive
Peggy and I started collecting direct mail in the late 1970s. In 1984 we launched a newsletter, WHO'S MAILING WHAT! based on our archive--a publication about junk mail for junk mailers.
One effort that caught my attention was an American Express offer for "four original works of art by Salvador Dali, The "Alice In Wonderland" Color Lithographs, available for $975 each (10 percent off if you ordered the complete set of four) by special arrangement with the Nelson Rockefeller collection.
These lithographs "were pulled in 1981-2 using plates created from Salvador Dali's maquettes, and are offered now for the very first time," the letter read. "Each is individually numbered, and each bears Dali's personal signature in pencil beneath the art."
Buried deep in the mousetype of the brochure was this incendiary line:
" … The Arches Paper sheets were signed by Salvador Dali before the lithographs were hand-pulled, numbered and custom framed."
In March 1985, a huge story exploded in The Wall Street Journal describing how Dali found that he could get $40 for his signature on a blank piece of print paper. He would sit for an hour at a time and sign his name every two seconds for a haul of $72,000 an hour. It is estimated that Dali signed between 350,000 and 400,000 sheets of paper.
Art entrepreneurs would then license an image from Dali's manager, Robert Descharnes, buy pre-signed paper and create editions of "signed and numbered Dali lithographs."
It may be that our lithograph does indeed have Dali's real signature—although forgeries abound. But in the world of limited edition lithography, this is out-and-out fraud.
Salvador Dali is probably the only artist in history who destroyed the value of his oeuvre out of pure greed. Today, no one knows what is a real Dali and what is not. But that does not matter to Dali, who has been dead since 1989. What's more, his reputation as an artist is solid, even if he was a crook in business.
Takeaway Points to Consider
- Where Dali was a known nut case and insatiable self-promoter, Thomas Kinkade's situation is different. The aura of decency and godliness that he has lovingly created over the years has been sullied by questionable business practices and inexcusable personal behavior. This in turn has jeopardized the network of some 200 independently-owned galleries—in effect, franchisees—whose owners' livelihoods and futures are entwined with his. In addition, devout Christians that own his paintings and hear about what happened may never again experience the same pleasure in a Kinkade work of art.
- Unlike a painter, whose name is on every work that is produced, a business person can operate in relative anonymity, so long as his or her name is not the name of the business.
- The real question for a person starting a business: Do you name it after the founder or give it a generic name? When Martha Stewart went to jail, it was not a happy time for the thousands of people whose lives depended upon her success or failure.
- This means that people with their names on a business--such as Oprah Winfrey and Michael Bloomberg--must be far more circumspect in their behavior than the rest of us.
- When Peggy and I started the newsletter, WHO'S MAILING WHAT!, we absolutely did not want our names on it. From the outset it was an institution--its own person with its own identity.
- If you sell a business with your name on it and the new owners are crooks, their misdeeds can follow you to your grave.
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
The Official Thomas Kinkade Web Site
Become a Kinkade Dealer
Dali Art for Sale