'The Art World Is Rotten' Giacometti Forger Tells All
Part 2: Choosing Giacometti to Build a Brand
Driessen made his first Giacometti sculpture in 1998. After studying Giacometti's style, the signatures and the foundry stamp, he made a thin, plaster figure 2.7 meters (8'10") tall, named it "Annette," after Giacometti's wife, and put it in storage in his attic. Only after one of his dealers had found a potential buyer did he have the bronze cast.
Soon afterwards, several men paid Driessen a visit: a Dutch art dealer he had known for a long time, Guido S., an antique dealer from the southwestern German city of Mainz, and a Greek living in the southern German region of Swabia. The Greek pulled out a brown envelope and counted out 250,000 deutsche marks, all newly printed 1,000-mark bills, which he gave to the art dealer, who in turn handed the money to Driessen.
As they were leaving, Guido S. asked Driessen: "Do you have any more Giacomettis?" "Yes, I might be able to get another dozen," Driessen replied, "including some from England."
So began the great Giacometti swindle. Guido S. went to see Driessen again three weeks later, this time leaving with 12 Giacometti bronzes, all small figures less than 40 centimeters tall. Driessen was paid 6,000 deutsche marks. Neither Guido S. nor the forger was troubled by the fact that, a few months later, the police found Driessen's 13 Giacomettis at the house of the Greek art lover, who was involved in various shady deals. Instead, they began a thriving business.
Guido S. was an insatiable buyer, and Driessen provided the antique dealer with as many forgeries as he wanted. Guido S. always came in person to pick up the bronzes, and he told Driessen that he planned to open a gallery near Lagos in Portugal's Algarve region, stocked with 1,500 Giacometti sculptures. The two men would meet on Sundays at a rest area on the A3 autobahn, which passes from the Netherlands to the Rhine-Main region in Germany. Driessen moved the fake Giacomettis from his BMW to Guido S.'s Daimler station wagon. He received an envelope filled with cash, or the purchase price was simpler transferred to his bank account. The Giacometti business went on for 10 years.
The Forgery Network Grows
During one of his visits to the antique dealer in Mainz, Driessen met his partner Lothar S., who appended the title "Count von Waldstein" to his name. Lothar had been a train conductor in East Germany before he was sent to prison for challenging the political system and was later deported to West Germany. While the count handled sales, Guido S. acted as the gang's strategist.
Guido S. even wrote a book, which he called "Diego's Revenge," and of which he had 300 copies printed. It tells the story, part truth and part fiction, of Diego Giacometti, a brother and assistant of the artist, who had established a secret cache of sculptures. According to the book, the brother had even removed "the results of Giacometti's work, and of long nights of struggle" from the studio and made castings of them, "which he took to the foundry, either on his own or after checking with Alberto."
In the book, Diego initially hid the castings, but after Alberto's death in 1966, sold them to collectors in Greece, France and England. Count Waldstein, as Guido S. wrote in his tall tale, had bought the bronzes back from the collectors. Even the ISBN number printed in the book was a forgery. Every forgery needs its legend, and every forged work of art needs a plausible provenance.
Driessen's partners searched for wealthy individuals with little knowledge about art. And they were successful. A billionaire in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, bought 49 fake Giacomettis for 3.5 million. Stuttgart investment manager Peter Hans Schuck paid at least 3.7 million for 18 forgeries. But the attempt to sell about 300 sculptures to two New York gallery owners for 50 million failed after the Americans became suspicious.
Driessen even had to hire two assistants to keep up with the casting. The majority of the pieces were produced in Roel Maaskant's foundry in Brummen. Driessen later found out that on average he had been paid less than a fifth of the purchase price. "It was really unfair," he says, "since I was the artist, after all."
Refuge in Southeast Asia
In 2005, Driessen, his wife and their son emigrated to Thailand to escape the gray winters at home. Before they left, Driessen burned all his photos of forged works of art.
He rented a large villa on the Gulf of Thailand, while Guido S. continued sending money to his bank account from Germany. At first, Driessen still made regular trips to the Netherlands, where he continued to produce Giacomettis. But in February 2009 the police, who were already on to Guido S. and the fake count, detained him for two hours at the Frankfurt airport. When Driessen drove to the Netherlands from there, plainclothes policemen kept him under close surveillance for the next 10 days. To be on the safe side, Driessen decided not to visit his two foundries and soon flew back to Thailand.
In early March 2009, Driessen received the following text message from Guido S.: "I'm transferring the money to your account, but make sure you don't come to Germany." Five months later, Guido S., Lothar S. and two assistants were arrested at the Frankfurt airport by a mobile police unit while in the process of selling five Giacometti forgeries for 338,000 in cash. Lothar S., the fake count, had crossed paths with real, undercover investigators with the state police in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg.
The police officers also searched the gang's warehouse on Kaiser-Karl-Ring in Mainz. In several rooms in the basement, there were 831 bronzes and 171 plaster figure in the style of Alberto Giacometti, as well as 20 pieces of metal furniture, copies of originals by Giacometti's brother Diego.
The regional court in Stuttgart imposed stiff penalties. Lothar S., who insisted until recently that the sculptures are real and that he had known Diego Giacometti personally, was sentenced to nine years in prison, while Guido S. was given seven years and four months. The case against Driessen is still open, but because he is not a German citizen, the investigators cannot have him extradited from Thailand.
In June of last year, Inspector Ernst Schöller and his coworkers transported Driessen's more than 1,000 creations to a foundry in the Swabian town of Süssen. A backhoe was used to smash the plaster figures, while the metal sculptures were melted into bars at temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). The casters later used the resulting five tons of bronze to make doors for a customer in Abu Dhabi.
Driessen watched a television report on the destruction of his works on YouTube, but he wasn't overly moved by it. He doesn't feel guilty, and there are limits to his pity for the victims. "Anyone who believes he can buy a real Giacometti for 20,000 deserves to be duped. The art world is rotten."
He says that he doesn't know if he would do it all again. His wife and son moved back to Europe some time ago. Driessen pours himself another glass of wine -- with lots of ice, as usual.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Giacometti Forger Tells All
- Part 2: Choosing Giacometti to Build a Brand