Monrovia-based sculptor Don Wakefield recently saw his large-scale, granite sculpture Untitled outside Seven Corporate Plaza in Newport Beach. But on closer inspection, he discovered it was a fake of the 6-x-4-foot work he and artist friend Joseph "Chick" Glickman designed and created together in 1992.
The art world is buzzing over the copy having apparently been made by an anonymous Chinese stone carver in Beijing and renamed Human Natures: Many Faces. But Orange Countians and the financial press should be buzzing, too, over the identity of the billionaire who apparently acquired the knock-off.
It's Florida- and Laguna Beach-based billionaire, property developer and convicted tax felon Igor Olenicoff, who pleaded guilty in December 2007 to a massive tax fraud scheme involving $346 million and Bahama bank accounts.
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As The Art Newspaper reports, Olenicoff bought the piece and two identical versions from a sculpture park in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games. One copy is outside Olen Properties Corp. at Seven Corporate Plaza and the other two are at an Olenicoff-owned complex a few miles away, according to the newspaper.
Olenicoff declined to reveal the exact source of the pieces, the identity of the craftsman or his thoughts on the works being copies of another artist's work. But The Art Newspaper was able to track them down to the anonymous Chinese artist who hawked nine Wakefield fakes.
No one likes seeing artists screwed, but you can't blame Olenicoff for going cheap. A Beijing-based stone-carving company estimated that to make a single copy of Wakefield's sculpture based on a photograph would cost $1,250 (or $950 each for three). Wakefield estimated that for he and Glickman to re-make thes original today, it would cost $35,000.
Since 2007, Olenicoff has paid the U.S. government $52 million in back taxes, interest and penalties to resolve his tax-fraud case.