For more than a decade, Gary Arseneau, a Florida-based artist, printmaker and self-proclaimed art scholar, has charged those behind the sale of the minimalist doodles by former Beatle John Lennon with fraud.
In 1986, six years after Lennon was murdered, his widow, Yoko Ono, began releasing limited editions of her husband's personal drawings in an attempt to establish him as one of the most important visual artists of his time.
It's with those reproductions, not Lennon's work itself, that Arseneau takes issue.
“The reason why the art is a fraud is simply that everything produced after 1980 is not original. John was dead—the dead don't create art,” said Arseneau. “These are reproductions that have been colorized and altered by Yoko and others.”
Arseneau insists Ono and the curators of a 120-piece John Lennon traveling collection, recently hosted at The Streets at SouthGlenn in Centennial, are misrepresenting the authenticity in an effort to bilk thousands of dollars out of unsuspecting collectors and fans.
Collection curator Richard Horowitz, who has worked closely with the Lennon estate on the exhibit, said Arseneau is a pest.
“He has harassed us for the last 1o years over this,” said Horowitz. “All of the items in the collection are properly identified and we make it very clear that Yoko Ono has collaborated on many of these pieces.”
But Arseneau says not clear enough.
“People go in and they see Lennon's art, and his music is playing in the background; they still have no idea if what they are buying is 100 percent John Lennon or something else — Yoko Ono is trying to rewrite history for profit.”
Horowitz says the gallery is always up front about every piece sold, educating clients on each piece and its unique history.
“People leave here knowing exactly what they've purchased,” said Horowitz.
For Arseneau, the bottom line is that buyers need to know that Lennon's original works were all done in black and white and that anything with color is a collaborative piece under the supervision of Ono, and that limited edition prints must bear a number and original signature by the artist.
But according to Horowitz, Arseneau misses the point.
“Yoko Ono's signature appears on many of the pieces to show they are authorized reproductions from the estate; we are really up front about all of this.”
More than 3,000 people attended the three-day exhibit, Nov. 2 -4, hosted by Horowitz and California-based Pacific Edge Gallery.
“There is one possibility I'm wrong about all this,” admitted Arseneau. “And that would be if John Lennon is still alive.