In 2018, George Condo had become one of the most sought-after artists alive, scrapped over by the wealthiest and most powerful collectors across the globe. With new works being sold on the primary market to only the top arts patrons, the only option for many would-be Condo owners was to spend a fortune on one at auction. The demand was so insane that even dashed-off drawings estimated to sell for prices in the mid-five figures were selling for as much as $400,000.
That November one such drawing—a small black-and-white work—was consigned from “a private collection in Greece” to Sotheby’s. It was estimated to sell in the auction house’s Contemporary Art Day sale for $80,000 to $120,000, but—shockingly—failed to find a buyer. Sotheby’s, it turned out, dodged a bullet. The world’s oldest auction house didn’t know at the time that the work wasn’t worth anything close to $120,000.
It was fake.
That Condo work and several others are now in the possession of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, True Colors can reveal, as they were created as part of a forgery ring that has produced works that have circulated in recent years through private collectors, major auction houses, and mega-galleries. They came at a particularly savvy time in Condo’s career, with his having achieved a big-tent pop-culture crossover status that few contemporary museum-cosigned painters ever do. Condo designed the artwork for Kanye West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and in his track “Picasso Baby,” Jay-Z rapped about having “Condos in my condos.” Let’s hope they were real ones.
“George is a celebrated, world-famous artist, and it is unfortunate but unsurprising that an artist of his caliber would be the subject of attempts to benefit from his success in an illegitimate way,” Cristopher Canizares, a partner at Hauser & Wirth, Condo’s gallery since early 2020, told me this week. “The art world has seen this in the past, with artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Picasso, and many others, and we are very happy that the D.A. is taking appropriate action.”
In conversations with a number of sources close to the fraud—collectors duped by the scheme; reps for Condo’s studio gobsmacked by the quality of the fakes; and dealers at his galleries—a picture emerged of a criminal enterprise running concurrent to the opaque but legitimate reselling of real Condos. In addition to the work that ended up at Sotheby’s, other works later deemed to be fake were sold at regional auction houses, and, once they were sent to Condo for inspection, the artist denied that they were his.
When emailed for comment, Condo’s studio account hit back with an auto-response indicating that the artist would not be checking email until February 15. I left my number. Later that evening, I got a call from Richard Golub, Condo’s longtime attorney, and a longtime fixture in the art world, known for aggressively fighting counterfeit pictures. He immediately confirmed that the studio had indeed identified the fake works and turned them over to the Manhattan D.A.
“Fakes are circulated and sold for almost every artist. There’s counterfeit paintings for everyone, and the market’s flooded for fakes,” Golub said. “We were told that in 2018, there were George Condo fakes out there, and indeed there were fakes.”
These days Condo’s market is nearly as hot as it was four years ago. His biggest collectors include billionaire trader Steve Cohen, Groupon cofounder Eric Lefkofsky, and hedge fund titan David Ganek. But the entire high-wire act of maintaining stratospheric numbers for graphite-on-paper drawings could be dismantled by the knowledge that a factory of fake makers exists in the land of Olympus, mysteriously pumping out fugazi Condos.
“Seemingly, there are fakes still out there,” said one collector who was offered work in the scam. “Remember a few years ago when Condo paper works were just flying? These guys were selling that whole time.”
When asked if the works all came from Greece, Golub said yes, and offered up the same unmistakably Hellenic name that other sources pinpointed. Golub said that he’s “the person who seems to me to be at the center of this.”
Who he is, exactly, is less clear. I was unfamiliar with the name, as were nearly a half dozen art advisers who were deep into the secondary Condo business circa 2018. The name and another known alias don’t have much of a digital imprint, and he did not respond to an email address provided by a source.