Essie Green Galleries Spring 2019 Exhibition Explores Forgeries & Fakes



Allen Stringfellow “Jumping”. Image courtesy Essie Green Galleries

The Spring 2019 exhibition at Essie Green Galleries will focus on the recent attention paid to African-American artists, their rise in prominence in museums and in the marketplace, along with a significant rise in forgeries and fakes.

Romare Bearden “Storyville Queen of the Season”. Image courtesy Essie Green Galleries

With a deep and historic connection between the gallery owner, Sherman Edmiston, and prominent African-American artists, the Spring exhibition will be not just a feast for our eyes, but a lesson in pitfalls for new, and even seasoned buyers of African-American art.

Essie Green Galleries first opened its doors in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1979, focusing their collection on the Black fine arts masters. This led to a close friendship and years of traveling with Romare Bearden and his wife, as well as friendships with the artists Jacob Lawrence and Lois Maliou Jones. These associations allowed for unique insight into the history, culture and personal experiences that “were the essence of their work.”

The Gallery has an extensive personal collection, featuring the work not only of Romare Bearden, but also Charles Alston, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Charles Ethan Porter, Edwin Bannister, Allen Stringfellow, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas, William S. Carter and many others. In 1989, Essie Green Galleries moved to its current home in a brownstone in Sugar Hill, and is considered a premier gallery specializing in the works of Black Masters.

Alexis Peskine “Belle Isa”. Image courtesy Essie Green Galleries

In speaking to the issue of forgeries and fakes in today’s market, gallery owner Sherman Edmiston, “The fakes market is propelled by the fact that many of these artists were overlooked or undervalued in their lifetimes. Therefore, scholarship and expertise in their work is limited. You simply can’t go back to the source anymore, and there are only a handful of people who worked first-hand with a lot of these artists while they were alive.”

“Dealers often encounter fakes when collectors and institutions contact a gallery seeking the rights to reproduce an image of an artist’s work, often in exhibition literature. The dearth of information makes it easier for fraudsters to operate and harder for authorities to catch them despite the reality that some of the artists, like Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, do have estates and foundations. The problem of fraud is exacerbated due to the unwillingness of estates and foundations to authenticate under the threat of litigation. Foundations just aren’t doing this work anymore; they can’t afford to.”

“Because some collectors are just beginning to catch on to the appeal of artists such as Alma Thomas and Charles White, there isn’t necessarily the same documentation and scholarship available to help identify authentic works of art. Historically many painters did not even sign some of their work. This issue has created an opportunity for enterprising fraudsters.”

Norman Lewis, Untitled. Image courtesy Essie Green Galleries

“Concerns about the authenticity of several works by Charles White were raised when the Art Institute of Chicago was organizing the artist’s first major survey show, a source at the institution says. The exhibition, seen in Chicago last summer, was recently at the Museum of Modern Art New York and show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (17 February-9 June). This highlights a potential pitfall for museums that organize such exhibitions: any works that are considered questionable are simply excluded from display, which could lead to a distortion of an artist’s true achievements.”

“Other problematic works include not outright fakes, but overly optimistic attributions from collectors hoping to have gotten lucky with, say, an eBay purchase. On the other hand, the need for an air-tight attribution can sometimes go too far and you can miss out on some great pieces. But there remains one certain way to spot a fake. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

The Essie Green Galleries is a contributor and exhibitor in many institutions including The Smithsonian, The High Museum, The Schomburg and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Much of the work depicts life in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. ~ The last two decades of Bearden’s life in the Caribbean are well represented in his later work.  All of this work shows the rich history of the African American culture.

Essie Green Galleries Spring 2019 Exhibition will be on view from April 27 to June 8, 2019 with an Opening Reception on Saturday, April 27 from 3:30 to 6:00pm. The gallery is located at 419Z Convent Avenue, in Sugar Hill, NYC