Art fraud

Making a Monkey of the Art World

immendorff uncut 2
Jörg Immendorf with his monkeys in 2004. Source. Imago/ Joker
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Mr. Immendorff’s monkeys are commanding ever higher prices, but there are strong indications that he may not have produced the collection.

  • Facts


    • Jörg Immendorff admitted he regularly signed off works and authorized certificates of authenticity.
    • Some of the monkey sculptures have sold for up to €210,000 ($240,000).
    • On September 30, five extra-large monkey figures will go up for auction in Cologne, listed at €25,000–35,000.
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Shortly before his death, the internationally renowned painter Jörg Immendorff (1945 – 2007) created a whole troop of monkeys: A series of ape-like sculptures in playful, anthropomorphic poses. Sometimes regarded as the artist’s alter egos, the sculptures became famous by their association with Monkey’s, a Düsseldorf restaurant chain launched in 2005 by the art consultant Helge Achenbach, later to go bankrupt.

In the years since, many of these figures have been put up for auction. Some have sold for up to €210,000, or $240,000. While Mr. Immendorff’s sculptures are commanding ever higher prices, there are growing indications that the artist may have played only a minimal role in creating the monkeys. His paintings have also come under scrutiny.

These suspicions have earned Mr. Immendorff a place in a very particular pantheon – the ranks of artists whose works have turned out not to be 100 percent genuine. Today, we know that not all Rembrandts come from the old master; some were made by his students. Not fake exactly, but not quite original either.

Controversy around Mr. Immendorff flared in 2008, when his painting “Café de Flore” was withdrawn from sale by the Munich auction house Kletterer, following suspicions that it was the work of studio assistants.

Mr. Immendorff himself, on trial in 2004 in an infamous vice case, admitted he regularly signed such works and authorized certificates of authenticity. Add to this a considerable number of fake Immendorffs in circulation, and we have the current murky, confused situation.

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