Artist challenges legitimacy of John Lennon exhibit
Tour company stands firmly by works
By DENNIS TAYLOR
Herald Staff Writer
An exhibit and sale of reproductions of drawings by John Lennon this weekend in Carmel is a $100 million scam perpetrated on unwitting buyers by his widow and a Florida-based company called Legacy Fine Arts and Productions Inc.
That's the charge being made by Gary Arseneau of Fernandina Beach, Fla., who describes himself as an artist, scholar, art expert, author and creator of original lithographs. Arseneau called the tour, which visits up to two dozen cities a year, "fraud on a massive level."
Not even remotely true, said Rudy Siegel of Legacy Productions. Siegel characterizes Arseneau as "someone who has proven over the years that he is a guy who does exactly what he does: He tries to get his name in the paper as a self-proclaimed historian and printmaker.
"Any of the lines or the drawings that we have on display, John Lennon executed," Siegel said. "Unfortunately, he wasn't around to get them printed, so Yoko (Ono) had them printed. And any color you see on the artwork, she added after John died."
Nearly 100 lithographs, serigraphs and copper etchings will be on display and for sale Friday through Sunday at Carmel Plaza. The exhibit is called "All We Need is Love."
John Lennon's Dream Power, part of a traveling art exhibition and sale Friday through Sunday at the Carmel Plaza in downtown Carmel.
Arseneau said Ono and Legacy have, since 1986, been selling reproductions of hundreds of black-and-white drawings Lennon did before his assassination in 1980. He said the items, promoted as "The Artwork of John Lennon," have been reproduced, colorized, numbered as "limited edition" pieces and in some cases drastically altered by another artist, Al Naclerio.
The works are emblazoned with a counterfeit "chop mark" — a patented stamp that is identified with the artist as a type of signature — that implies Lennon approved the alterations of his work, Arseneau said.
The problem, he said, is that dead people don't create art, nor do they colorize it, sign it, number it or sell it in "limited editions."
And he said Ono and Legacy don't properly disclose to buyers that Lennon never touched — or even knew about — the pieces that are being represented as his work.
Arseneau said unwitting art collectors are spending hundreds, even thousands, of dollars at the exhibits for pieces they believe were handled by Lennon.
"Artwork is not reproduction, and reproduction is not artwork, and their representation of the pieces they're selling doesn't match the disclosure," he said. "John Lennon didn't work in color. John Lennon didn't sign these. John Lennon didn't number them. John Lennon never even knew about them."
John Lennon's Let's Have a Dream, part of Lennon's All We Need is Love art exhibition and sale, which opens Friday and continues through Sunday at the garden level of Carmel Plaza in downtown Carmel.
Arseneau said he got a call last year from the wife of a CNBC producer who spent $40,000 on drawings she believed had been done by Lennon.
"She was under the impression that she was in the presence of something John Lennon actually created, and approved, and signed, when, in fact, he never even saw it," Arseneau said.
Other collectors spent $10,000, he said, discovering later that the same "limited edition" piece was on the market for much less.
"They contacted Yoko's representative, who told them that it wasn't their policy to buy back the work they had sold, so they were stuck with something they couldn't sell for one-tenth of the price they had paid," he said.
Siegel said Arseneau's claim is 100 percent incorrect, and that all buyers walk away knowing exactly what they've purchased.
"On the back of every piece we sell is a certificate of authenticity that talks about the piece and how and it was printed, just like anything you'd buy in any gallery or retail setting," he said. "Beyond that, I don't think we have to respond to claims like this after all these years."
Arseneau said in the 27 years since Ono began altering and selling Lennon's drawings, "72,000 nondisclosed forgeries" have been produced, representing $100 million in potential inventory.
"It's been characterized in their various catalogues as Yoko's desire to share John's artistic genius with the public," Arseneau said.
John Lennon's "Power to the People."
Ono has promoted the work as drawings he did for his son, Sean, from 1976-80. But at least two of those sketches were published in Lennon's own books, 1964's "A Spaniard In The Works" and 1965's "In His Own Write," he said.
Arseneau said he feels "morally obligated, as an artist and an art expert, to share these issues with the public."
Arseneau took issue with the charity aspect of the Carmel show, which will benefit the Food Bank for Monterey County. No money from sales will go to charity, he said. Proceeds will only come from the $3 suggested donation at the door.
"I've been dealing with these claims for a decade," Siegel said. "Do you really think Yoko is going to perpetrate a fraud? He does the same thing with Dr. Seuss art, with Degas sculptures, with Michelangelo pieces. He's a purist, I guess."
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
·What:"All We Need is Love: The Artwork of John Lennon," an exhibit and sale of pieces based on the drawings of the late Beatles member.
·When:11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
·Where:Suite 101 at Carmel Plaza, Ocean Avenue and Mission Street.
·Cost:A $3 suggested donation will benefit the Food Bank for Monterey County.