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Oh, Yoko: Is the DC JOHN LENNON Exhibition a Fraud? [UPDATE]

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Last week, we wrote to tell you that an exhibition of John Lennon artwork — some of which would be available for sale — was headed to DC for a brief three-day stint in Georgetown this weekend. Well, don’t pull out those checkbooks yet.

Shortly after posting, CultureMob was contacted by one Gary Arseneau, an artist and forgery expert who has been tracking the very same Lennon exhibitions for more than a decade. While promotional materials for the Georgetown show — entitled “In My Life” — claim that it will feature over “100 pieces of art created by John Lennon, encompassing the years 1968 through 1980,” it would appear that the bulk, if not all, of the show’s “serigraphs, lithographs, copper etchings and aqua tints” are much more recent. As Arseneau himself puts it, “The dead don’t create artwork.”

Detailing the perceived misrepresentation of the “originals” included in traveling show — which has previously toured under a variety of Beatles-themed monikers including “Come Together,” “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “All You Need is Love” — on his website, Arseneau writes:

“[During] his lifetime, John Lennon -never- created serigraphs, etchings, woodcuts and lithographs (with one lifetime exception titled “frontspiece”). As with any original works of visual art, original printmaking requires the living artist’s hands on gparticipation [sic] and can’t be created posthumously.”

Despite this, the show’s promoters, Legacy Productions — in concert with Lennon’s widow and estate keeper, Yoko Ono — have been putting on such shows since 1986 and selling works dubbed “original” and “signed” for thousands of dollars apiece.

Unfortunately, as Arseneau details in depth on his blog, the supposed Lennon originals are actually little more than colorized or otherwise altered reproductions — or, as the layman might call them, posters. Moreover, the “chopmark” signatures they purport to bear are indeed posthumous forgeries. By his estimate, there are more than 35,000 such Ono-approved pieces now in circulation — all of which he says amount to a “$100 million fraud.”

CultureMob contacted James Bracco, Executive Director of the Georgetown BID, who are listed as “presenting” the DC exhibition alongside Ms. Ono herself at a vacant M St. arts space, for a response to Arseneau’s allegations. He wrote by e-mail:

“While the Georgetown BID is assisting Legacy Productions on promoting the upcoming John Lennon Art Exhibit, we are not further involved in the production or organization, and therefore, are not the appropriate party to provide insights or comments to this issue.”

As of this writing, CultureMob has submitted a request to Legacy for comment. In the meantime, for anyone thinking of taking in “In My Life” this weekend should remember but two words: caveat emptor.

UPDATE: Legacy Productions spokesman Rudy Siegel issued the following the statement in response to CultureMob’s post this morning:

For the past 17 years Legacy Productions has worked with the Lennon Estate and Yoko Ono to bring John’s artwork to hundreds of thousands of people around the country, showing the truly artistic side of the former Beatle. Unfortunately, due to his untimely murder, John wasn’t able to publish his collection as he did with the Bag One Series from 1969. Ms. Ono has published his work posthumously as a way to continue to bring John’s legions of fans together to celebrate his messages of peace and love, which these exhibitions have truly become.

Which didn’t really address any of the issues raised by Arseneau. How many pieces in the “largest collection of Lennon’s works on paper ever assembled” are actual originals, we asked, and not some type of reproduction? Which seems like an appropriate question, given that the show’s promo materials boast that the show includes “rare works from the controversial ‘Bag One’ suite signed by John in 1970.”(Emphasis added.)

“You’re exactly right all of the pieces that we have on display are limited edition prints. They are either lithographs or serigraphs,” responded Siegel by BlackBerry. “Originals are in private collection or museums now.”

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