Everyone is ringing in the New Year with a high degree of oversight. So much stake was put into the end of the Mayan calendar’s 13th Baktun, 12/12/12, and since our hotels don’t have a 13th floor, and some people suffer from triskaidekaphobia (fear of anything associated with the number thirteen), then one has to wonder why there has been no emphasis put on our new year of 2013. Logically, especially if you are superstitious, then 2013 should be an unlucky year for all of us.
Well one way to be lucky is to be a bit of a skeptic, and to be prepared. The art world attracts all sorts of wannabes, new agers, gurus, and con artists. The trouble with con artists is that some don’t know they are con artists.
Con artists lack empathy, and although some start with legitimate aims to help others, it’s always with selfish motives, involving a complicated mix of insecurities, the need to be appreciated, a reliance on the help of others, and always feeling disenfranchised by society. They are doomed to fail, not because they are unlucky, but because they are extremely self-centered. They dream big, brag about their achievements, if they have any, and if not, they tell lofty tales about who they are associated with, and what they will accomplish in the future.
They can be very convincing; especially to younger and eager artists who haven’t learnt that not everyone claiming to do so wants to help them. This is why when someone gets ripped off it comes as such a shock. And the con artists have learned how to make the victim feel it was their fault. Con artists justify coercion, fraud, theft and lying as a balancing act of fair play, bringing fairness back to the universe, for themselves. And with no empathy, they don’t feel anything for their victims, even young victims whose careers could be destroyed by the trauma of the theft.
Thunder Bay has three con artists at work who have a history of ripping off artists. Currently they don’t run any galleries or picture frame shops, but they have in the past. One, who helped forge Norval Morrisseau paintings when Morrisseau was alive, is back in town after twenty years. If you want to know who they are, simply ask around in the art community. In a small city like Thunder Bay, their names are well known. For younger residents and university students and others who have moved here, it’s good to ask around before dealing with anyone claiming to want to represent them and show their work.
Also, it’s good to know that a contract, no matter how well written, can be worthless if you’re dealing with a con artist. To them it’s a piece of paper, and because they skirt the law so often, they will know more about the law than most any other artist. Although a contract in the art world isn’t worth much these days, which can be disconcerting, it’s still good to have, yet important to have it looked over by a lawyer before it’s signed.
So, if you think you’re dealing with a con artist, listen to your gut. Lots of little warning bells will sound. Get references. Ask around. And if you are conned and you want your artwork back, or the money from a sale, don’t be a victim. Call the police first, then seek out a lawyer. And if that seems hopeless, then be as nutty as the con artist. Threaten to expose them, or steal back the items. Or worse. There’s nothing that scares a con artist more than someone like themselves. The mirror can reveal a horrible reality.