Yoko Ono Accused of Selling Altered John Lennon Artworks

Yoko Ono rented out a big space in SoHo this weekend and held a sale of her late husband John Lennon's artworks. Lennon would have been 71 this year. A Florida-based "artist, creator of original lithographs, scholar, and author" named Gary Arsenau is accusing Ono of selling Lennon works that she recomposed and colored -- "essentially cut-and-paste mashups of Lennon themes rather than Lennon prints," as ArtInfo describes it.

"The so-called 'Artwork of John Lennon' being offered for sale in SoHo this weekend was actually posthumously forged in color and new compositions, each part of bogus editions with counterfeit John Lennon chop mark/signatures," Arseneau wrote to ArtInfo.

This isn't the first time Ono has been accused of altering Lennon's artworks, and apparently four of the works on display in "Gimme Some Truth: The Artwork of John Lennon" do appear to have been messed with. The organizers admit that Ono added color to some of the drawings.

As for Gary Arseneau, it's not clear what his deal is, though ArtInfo is giving him a hell of a lot of credence by publishing his accusations. That said, some of the drawings do seem to have been...boosted a little. Curious.

[rgray@villagevoice.com] [@_rosiegray]

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 Vincent Van Gogh "Truth has nothing to do with the number of people it convinces.” Paul Claudel He painted what he felt, not what he saw. People didn't understand, to them it seemed childlike and crude. It took years for them to recognize his actual technique. To see the way his brush strokes seemed to make the night sky move. Yet, he never sold a painting in his lifetime. This is his self-portrait. There's no camouflage, no romance. Honesty. Now, sixty years later, where is he? Famous. So famous, in fact, that everybody has a reproduction. There are post cards...  We have the calendar.  With the ability to reproduce art, it is available to the masses. No one needs to own a van Gogh original, they can paint their own. Van Gogh in a box, ladies! The newest form of mass-distributed art; paint by numbers.  "Now everyone can be van Gogh. It's so easy. Just follow the simple instructions and in minutes, you're on your way to being an artist." Van Gogh by numbers?  Ironic, isn't it? Look at what we have done to the man who refused to conform his ideals to popular taste. Who refused to compromise his integrity. We have put him in a tiny box and asked you to copy him. John Lennon's PEACE MOVEMENT by numbers AND ACTIVISM IS IN A tiny box now,MY MOMMA SAYS OBAMA John Lennon would Occupy Wall Street!!!!I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. Vincent Van Gogh


Dear Ms Ono:  Please don't alter John's art in any way.  We love it as he did them.  Thank you.


Re: your recent article about the John Lennon Art showsput together by Yoko Ono and Legacy Fine Arts, it seems that as a by-product ofthe cyberspace age, anyone with an axe to grind or who's looking to make a namefor himself by drawing undue attention to his rantings can put together a blogand have it accepted as gospel (the new millennium equivalent of the old"everybody's a critic" lament). Frankly, the named protagonist (Mr.Arseneau), who's been seeking an audience for years, and those he has baitedinto chiming into his blog, have all got to be kidding.


I've been going to the Lennon art shows for YEARS andaside from the (out of my price reach) original signed lithographs (yes, hecreated only ONE original drawing of each, but signed MANY lithographs ofthem), everything - and I do mean EVERYTHING about the items for sale and ondisplay was disclosed, and not sold as anything more than what they were ...prints (or in some cases, "lithographs" or "proofs"). In mydecade-plus dealings with them, I've found the people at Legacy Fine Arts to beknowledgeable, friendly and have integrity beyond reproach.


So, by way of example - I got a silkscreened reproduction of the lyrics to "RealLove". Was it hawked as an "original"? NEVER. Did I think in mywildest dreams that John's pen went to that sheet of paper? NOT FOR ONE MINUTE. Did he draw the same exactself-portrait doodle on every lyric sheet he ever wrote ? NOT A CHANCE. Is itof high quality and beautifully framed and does it look great as a centerpiecein my den - YOU BET.  The same goes formy "Borrowed Time" sketch (the one used for the posthumous"Wonsoponatime" album) and other pieces I've bought.


John's art is really whimsical and I enjoy it very much.The message here - consumers must educate and culture themselves. Learn aboutthe art, the artist, and YES, the piece you are buying. I do not feel for onesecond I was ever mislead and am 1000% happy I acquired the pieces I did, includingone of the "colorized" children's drawings. Of course, Mr. Arseneaucites those as "forgeries", as another artist worked on them afterJohn died, and would have readers believe he has discovered the smoking gun -the NAME of the artist who perpetrated the act ! I never even applied todetective school, and I knew that Al Naclerio was the artist in question - heis, after all, credited as such in the book that collects the drawings.


As for Mr. Arseneau, I replied to this"scholarly" blog, and his mantra of "the dead don't createart", by posing the challenge of whether the surviving Beatles themselvesshouldn't have "colorized" John's demos to make the "new"songs "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird". After all, as aform of "art", the dead don't make music, do they ? Whatever one maythink of those two records - both of which I happen to LOVE -  the principle is the same as what Mr.Arseneau is crying foul over as a big "fraud". My guess is this sameguy, who's trying to incite the masses into a class action suit over the (let'scall it) "art" hasn't quite gotten to the point of suing Apple,Capitol Records, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr or the George Harrison estate forselling us supposedly "new" Beatles recordings. After all, the deaddon't make music, do they ? Maybe Apple and their lawyers don't take as kindlyto a poke in the eye as the art dealers do.


Given Mr. Arseneu's penchant for hammering home timelines ("John died in 1980; these were colorized years later"; etc.)in defense of his "fraud" allegations, I assured him that when Ibought my CD's of "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird" (a) Idid not think they were the originals (I'm pretty sure they sold a few millionCOPIES of each of them); (b) I was well aware John had been deceased for over adecade, and (c) outside people (you know, like Jeff Lynne) were brought in tolend their talents to help bring these projects to fruition.


On his website, Mr. Arseneau  cites a 2008 article in which he besmirchesYoko and the Legacy team, stating ""The bottom line is ... they want the public to see and buy work that John Lennonhimself has never seen"; by that standard, one would have to deduce that"Real Love" and "Free As A Bird" should be discounted(certainly John never heard those finished products).


And while on the subject of Mr. Arseneau's website, onelook at his "bio", covering his five years of study at communitycolleges (yet with no mention of any degrees earned), he notes "when Iresearch and write about contentious issues of authenticity in the art world, Iuse independent documented definitions I didn`t define", making a point touse a select dictionary definition of scholar ("a learned or eurdite [sic]person, esp. one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject."). Whileobviously not figuring anyone would challenge a scholars' spelling, I wouldhave to say he's taken a very liberal interpretation of the term; a lookthrough my own desk dictionary defines "scholar" as "a personwho has done advanced study in a special field". Not sure five years atcommunity college, with no mention of a degree, gets me there.


It seems Mr. Arseneau would have been at least somewhatappeased if they called the exhibit the "reproductions and lithographs oflyrics and drawings done by John Lennon when he was alive" as opposed to"the art of ..." And while he definitely doesn't come across as a fanof Yoko's (I get it, believe me), like it or not, SHE (not Mr. Arseneau) getsto decide how John's legacy (no pun intended) is handled and marketed.


One look at any Beatles Sotheby's auction would show REALhandwritten Beatles lyrics routinely fetching well into the six-figure range. Anyone who thinks I was defrauded into paying $500 for my"Real Love" lyric print (which by the way, came in what wouldprobably be a couple hundred dollar framing job) is simply ill informed anddoesn't give folks credit for being even half-educated consumers.  People are a lot smarter than Mr. Arseneauappears to give them credit for. Yeah, I've seen the REAL handwritten lyrics andknow they are - really - priceless. As long as people are in a position to makean informed decision, as I was, and are happy with their purchase, who's to saywhat Yoko "should" be doing ? Hint: Not Mr. Arseneau, or you, or me.


In my last (by that, I don't mean "mostrecent", I mean "final") post to Mr. Arseneau (he and hiscrusade are simply not worth the time or effort) , I acknowledged that "caveat emptor"is ALWAYS good advice, and let him know that I'd be going to the show thefollowing week NYC, and PROMISED to let him know IMMEDIATELY if any of theLegacy staff try to pawn the prints off as "originals", or anythingelse but what they are. I hope he's not holding his breath waiting for a followup, because, as always, the folks at Legacy Fine Arts treated me with respectfor my consumerism and intelligence. It's more than most "blogscholars" are willing to concede, it seems.


Art Lover
Art Lover

Who exactly is this Gary Arseneau?  I mean seriously.   

Given the way John was murdered, it is probably best to avoid anyone exhibiting any signs of obsessive behaviors or characteristics....

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