A traveling exhibition of John Lennon’s artwork that stopped in Southampton Village last month is one of the largest art frauds in the last 20 years, according to a Florida lithograph maker who has been publicly questioning the authenticity of the exhibit since the late 1990s.
The serigraphs in the “Come Together” art exhibition may be authorized by Mr. Lennon’s estate, but “the dead don’t create art,” Gary Arseneau said last week.
Mr. Arseneau said that when he stumbled upon a Lennon exhibit more than 10 years ago he was curious as to how a busy musician could have put out such a volume of work.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out that the work was done posthumously,” he said.
A spokesman for Legacy Productions, which facilitates the Lennon exhibitions, said Mr. Arseneau’s claims have no validity and insisted that Mr. Lennon drew or wrote everything in the exhibition, aside from the photography.
Mr. Arseneau countered that if people found out how the Lennon serigraphs are made, no one would show up or buy anything.
“This is a money-making scam,” he said. “They’re not concerned about John Lennon’s legacy. They’re concerned about cashing in on a perceived legacy.”
Six years after Mr. Lennon’s death in 1980, his widow, Yoko Ono Lennon, hired professionals to reproduce her husband’s black and white drawings, Mr. Arseneau said. At best, the reproductions could be called “posters,” he said. They also include counterfeit Lennon chop mark signatures, he added. He said that any prints made from or based on drawings by the former Beatle produced after his death could not legitimately be called “original works of art by John Lennon” because he was dead when they were made by other people.
“The bottom line is ... they want the public to see and buy work that John Lennon himself has never seen,” Mr. Arseneau said, and that is being passed off as having been created by him.
Works have also been altered and put into new compositions, and Ms. Ono Lennon has colored Mr. Lennon’s black and white drawings, Mr. Arseneau added. “She promotes this posthumous colorization as a collaboration with her dead husband.”
Mr. Arseneau also said Lennon drawings published in 1964 are being passed off as works Mr. Lennon made for his son, who wasn’t born until years later.
“It’s just mind boggling that she would alter history for money,” Mr. Arseneau said.
Rudy Siegel, director of media relations for Legacy Productions, said the short response to Mr. Arseneau’s allegations is: “Do you really think Yoko is going to perpetuate a fraud?”
Ms. Ono Lennon is up-front about the fact that she decided to add color to many of Mr. Lennon’s works to make prints, and clients are always informed before buying any serigraphs that Mr. Lennon did not color the works himself, Mr. Siegel said.
He went on to say that Ms. Ono Lennon was there when Mr. Lennon produced the originals of the serigraphs. He emphasized that “Come Together” is one of the most highly attended and successful art exhibitions in the United States in the last 17 years, and he said 99.9 percent of purchasers have had no complaints about what they bought.