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Police have discovered multiple forgeries of Menashe Kadishman's "sheep" paintings after the artist himself alerted them that someone was faking his works, Channel 2 reported on Thursday evening. He said the police had made an arrest in the case.
In a televised interview, Kadishman said he was invited to exhibit his works at a Ra'anana gallery, but when making a visit to check out the gallery was "amazed and disgusted" to find a painting on show there that was supposedly by him and signed by him, but was actually a fake.
Kadishman recounted how he asked a friend of his to buy the picture, and that the friend paid $900 for it. He said he sold his paintings for an average of $3,000.
The artist said police had done a "marvelous job" in apprehending the "thief," as Kadishman repeatedly termed him. It was unclear how many forgeries had already been sold by the gallery, and whether more of them could still be found on the market elsewhere.
Kadishman, 76, a world-renowned Israeli artist, was schooled in Israel and London, and was Israel's representative in the 1968 4th "Kassel Dokumenta" in Germany, one of the most important art festivals, held every five years.
His early works were starkly abstract and often minimalist in concept. But Kadishman's style became less abstract in the late 1970s when he began his long series of representational drawings revolving around the motif of the sheep, a seemingly banal subject that in his work became laden with political and philosophical subtexts. He achieved international fame after 1985 when he expanded the sheep-theme to large paintings in full color.
While his colorful sheep remain a staple of Israeli art around the world, he no longer enjoys the critical acclaim he had enjoyed, partially because of the sheer quantity of sheep paintings.
The sheep's heads, in gay, bright colors, can be seen with their bemused expressions from the display windows of many galleries in Israel, and in Jerusalem one can even find several competing galleries on the same street displaying Kadishman works.
The forgeries recently discovered endanger the already saturated "Kadishman sheep" market because they call into question the market value of paintings already sold to collectors as authentic Kadishmans.
All forgeries found so far are said to be of the pastiche type, meaning they are not accurate copies masquerading as existing works (such as a second "Mona Lisa"), but new pieces, created in a manner carefully calculated to suggest the artist's own stylistic traits.
Aside from painstaking scrutiny by specialists, the only way to detect a forgery in such cases is to ask the artist himself to identify the pieces.
In a case like that of Kadishman, whose fame allows him both to avoid being represented exclusively by a single agent and to deal with many galleries directly, the task of cataloguing becomes difficult unless the artist himself keeps a catalogue of his output.
Galleries often buy his works secondhand, from collectors, and the paintings' provenance is based on certificates and testimonies.