A massive fraudulent art scandal has been unfolding in the city over the past few months, with investigators suspecting art collectors and gallery owners were sold dozens of works thought to be done by the likes of Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell. And now, the neighbors and friends of a quiet Chinese immigrant living in Queens say they suspect he was the real talent behind the works.
Earlier this week, art dealer Glafira Rosales was indicted with money laundering and tax evasion in connection with selling the works, which were sold for upwards of $80 million over the past 15 years. The painter behind the pieces—American Modernist works that were picked up by highbrow Manhattan art dealers—was not named in the indictment, but the NY Times reports sources point to 73-year-old Pei-Shen Qian, a Woodhaven resident who emigrated from China in the 1980s in hopes of furthering his art career.
Qian was an experimental underground artist in his native Shanghai, but he struggled to get recognized in New York. "He was kind of frustrated because of the language problem, the connection problem," Zhang Hongtu, a well known New York artist and friend of Qian's, told the Times. "He was not that happy." So, it appears he found another way to eke himself a living; according to court papers, the unknown painter who worked for Rosales was discovered hocking his artwork on the street, and was commissioned to paint fraudulent "newly discovered" works by famous artists for a few thousand bucks each. And they were exceptionally done: "I didn’t know he had this kind of a good technique," Zhang said of the works, which were able to fool two prominent dealers and a many high-paying collectors. "He had some talent, but I don’t believe he can paint in the same style as a Jackson Pollock; it’s not easy to copy this kind of style."
Neighbors say Qian and his wife left their home, whose windows are covered with paper and plywood, a few months ago; he has not yet been charged in connection to Rosales' case.