A film by Daria Price
2019, 84 minutes
No. 255


Driven to Abstraction unravels a mutating tale of self-delusion, greed, and fraud — the $80 million forgery scandal that rocked the art world and brought down Knoedler, New York City’s oldest and most venerable gallery. 

Was the gallery’s esteemed director the victim of a con artist who showed up with an endless treasure trove of previously unseen abstract expressionist masterpieces? Or did she eventually suspect they were fakes, yet continue to sell them for many millions of dollars for fifteen years? 

Whatever the truth, two women from very different worlds were, wittingly or not, caught up in the greatest hoax ever of Modern American Art. When collectors realized they had plunked down millions on now worthless fakes – Mark Rothkos, Jackson Pollocks, Clyfford Stills, Franz Klines, Richard Diebenkorns, Barnett Newmans, and Robert Motherwells – lawsuits started flying, and the Feds did what the Feds do — they followed the money to tax evasion and money laundering and to a modest house in Queens. It turned out that all the fakes were the work of a single forger, an elderly Chinese immigrant with the uncanny ability to mimic the masters of Abstract Expressionism. 

How could this scam flourish for so long despite plenty of red flags popping up along the way? “It took a village,” says Patricia Cohen, the New York Times reporter who broke the story. The art market’s lack of transparency and secret transactions smoothed the way. Along with drugs and arms, the art trade is the most unregulated in the world.

Best Documentary Feature Nomination, Raindance Film Festival
Official Selection, Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Official Selection, Haifa international Film Festival
Official Selection, Hamptons DocFest
Official Selection, FilmColumbia Film Festival
Official Selection, Greenwich International Film Festival
Main Slate, Saratoga Film Festival

"Driven to Abstraction raises many points about the frailties of the art market, but for me, the most fascinating question the film raises is about this one painter, who managed to copy the methods and visual languages of so many different masters of abstract art, well enough to fool dozens of experts. In a field where artists routinely have assistants complete their work anyway, the story of Pei-Shen makes me ask why it really matters who painted a painting, as long as we like what we see?" - Phillip Barcio, IdeelArt