The Dalí Dilemma: Where It All Comes Together

Introduction to the Salvador Dalí Market

The proof of everything I have written about in this book so far can be found in abundance in the market for artworks by and attributed to the Spanish surrealist master Salvador Dalí. The scams are bigger. The characters are more fantastic. The prices are more intangible. The credibility of “experts” is more elusive. The stories are richer. It’s all about perception, and the opportunities both for fraud and for connoisseurship are magnified. It is almost as if there is a whole new set of myths driving the market.

In fact, fraud has been so pervasive in the market for Dalí art—especially prints, of which there are about 1,700 legitimate editions—that frequently, when I tell art professionals that I am the internationally recognized Dalí expert, they roll their eyes and say, “Now there’s a market that scares me.” As we talk, I find that they know all of the misinformation and false stories that have circulated for years, and they believe that there is no one who can tell the difference between a legitimate Dalí print and one of the many thousands of fakes.

Prior to 1987 that was true, but by then I had been exploring the quagmire for seven years, was in contact with many of the players—good and bad—and had developed my art-detective techniques for Dalís to the point that, in fact, I usually could tell the difference. From that point on, I had guaranteed job security.

Nineteen eight-seven was the year that the first court cases and prosecutions of fake Dalí dealers and publishers kicked off. From then through 1992, about 60 percent of my time was spent providing litigation-support services as the only expert who could prove to a jury that prints being sold for $1,800 to $4,000 as original Salvador Dalís were actually bogus, exhibited forged pencil signatures, and should be priced at $18 to $40.

I’ve sent crooks to jail. I’ve broken many collectors’ hearts. I’ve been congratulated by a judge for setting a new record for the length of cross-examination in federal court. I’ve seen people who had thought we were friends turn away when they saw my name on a witness list. I’ve provided services for a long list of federal regulatory and law-enforcement agencies. I’ve been threatened many times. I’ve worked with splendid attorneys and investigators. I’ve faced organized-crime figures. I’ve done numerous undercover investigations. I’ve had my reputation smeared. I’ve met almost every important player on both sides of the issue. I’ve assisted a great many colleagues appraise Dalís. I’ve always done it with integrity and, I think I’ve had more fun than anyone else in my profession.

The Perfect Storm

So what made Dalí such a target for international fraud, and what made the scams so successful? It was the coming together of a number of factors that reflect the differences between fine art and decorative art and rely on the six myths that drive the art market. The first factor was that everyone knew that Salvador Dalí original paintings sold in the international market for impressive and always-rising prices. This made it easy to sell the prints as fine art, when in fact they were decorative art.

Further, there were no connoisseurs or experts who could identify the real prints and the bogus ones until 1987, and by then, the scams had been developing for almost a decade—perhaps 100,000 fakes had been sold—and the perpetrators had so successfully circulated myths to explain their actions that the stories continue to have credence today.

So what were the other factors? Significantly, since the end of the Second World War (which Dalí and his wife, Gala, spent in the United States doing commercial projects and movies), Salvador Dalí had been very lax in his business practices. Gala (born Elena Diakonoff de Ullina in Kazan, Russia, in 1894) always needed money for her boy-toys, gambling, and lavish lifestyle. Huge quantities of cash came from contracts between Dalí and print publishers as well as sales of paintings and drawings to collectors.

With Gala’s unrelenting demands for money, Dalí was pleased to find that, as he said, “I can make $20,000 before breakfast.” This he did by signing print contracts or, later, blank sheets of paper for print editions and sets of Divine Comedy, which had been published without signatures.

Dalí signed contracts with almost anyone and did nothing to police the manner in which they were then used and abused. He even resisted efforts by others to unravel his affairs saying, “The important thing is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.”

The greatest factor, however, was that the artist and his wife contracted flu early in 1980 and, with Dalís paranoia about disease, fled to Paris and then home to Port Lligat at Cadaqués, Spain.

The death of Gala in 1982 and severe burns Dalí suffered in a fire in 1984, reduced the already failing artist to a wretched patient with no control over his own life. He apparently signed several highly questionable documents his handler put in front of him. One disavowed the credibility of his closest friends, Giuseppe and Mara Albaretto.

There is a great deal more information about the unbelievable Salvador Dalí market,
Bernard’s years of investigation and testimony, and the characters who
are better than those in novels in

ARTFUL DODGERS: FRAUD AND FOOLISHNESS IN THE ART MARKET