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Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  1,226 Ratings  ·  203 Reviews
It is said that the greatest con man in the world is the one who has never been caught—and here for the first time is the astonishing story of America’s most accomplished art forger

Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been fron
ebook, 368 pages
Published August 15th 2012 by Pegasus Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Wow. Cool. Groovy. This is a very poorly written (noun, verb, predicate) expose by a guy who thinks he is too sophisticated for words. In reality he is a lying, cheating sleaze bag of a forger. Admittedly I am fascinated with forgery and restoration/conservation, but the smug, too cool for words, name-dropping non-style of this tell-all annoyed me. (Can you tell?) This is just a catalog of petty scams interspersed with lots of drugs and alcohol. At any rate, the discussions of actual forgery tec ...more
Lance Charnes
Feb 21, 2014 Lance Charnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who like their true crime stories torn from People magazine back issues
Ken Penenyi is what This American Life would call an "American original." A borderline juvenile delinquent from the wrong side of the Hudson, he stumbled across art and discovered he had a knack for dissecting and duplicating the styles of other artists. With the right sponsors, he managed to mix it up with the New York City boho art and fashion scene of the 1970s and 1980s. This naturally led to a career as perhaps one of the most prolific (and successful) art forgers in American history. And h ...more
Sep 11, 2012 Garth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little skeptical of this book after the first few chapters. The writing style was a bit bland and direct and seemed to simply brag about the jubilant exploits of a teenager/20-something who was accidentally swept up in the world of fashion and art in New York City. However after this groundwork was laid the narrative progreses towards the authors growing passion for art and the way in which he began to forge the art of famous painters. This is where the book really began to become intere ...more
Jennifer Mccann
As I was talking about this book to my husband, I said, "the writing is so bland, and direct, the story so matter of fact, there is no way this can be made up. It must be authentic." Then I said, "the irony of that statement is not lost on me." An authentic story by an art forger.

Bland is the writing, but the story fascinating. Ken Perenyi clearly is a gifted artist. Chance encounters and meeting unusual people led him to discover his gift. As starving artists go, he turns to forgeries to help h
May 15, 2017 david rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Son, ya’ need some culture. You’se ain’t got none.

Ya wouldn’t know a Tintoretto from a Pinocchio, or a Dali from a Deli, a Monet from Money, Van Gogh from a Go-Go, a Motherwell from a Mother lode.


It takes a goomba, from New Jersey, to write a book about the art of art, to enlighten the reader to the creative process of past Masters.

He was an artist himself, a wise guy, a forger.

And he was good at it. A friggin’ rainmaker.

This guy made a career out of selling fake paintings that he drew
Nancy Kennedy
Dec 11, 2012 Nancy Kennedy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book by a wildly successful American art forger is compulsively readable. Ken Perenyi created a niche for himself by imitating artists whose work is well-known (Heade, Buttersworth, etc.) but not considered Old Master (Renoir, Vermeer, etc.). He found that these artists used the same elements in different arrangements in their paintings, and so he is able to mimic the arrangements using the same elements, like books and candles in still lifes, yachts in marine paintings, or flowers and bird ...more
Oct 11, 2012 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In two weeks two different people recommended I read this. It was a very quick read and great. I'm sure I also appreciate it more than the average reader; as an artist, the technical info that was included here-and-there struck a chord.
I've read several reviews stating that the story was unpleasant to read because the writing style was bland and direct. It is very matter-of-factly written, but I guess I don't see the need for flowery language when you're recounting an interesting history-- If yo
"Look at me, look at me!" says Ken Perenyi from the safety of this side of the statute of limitations. "I sold millions of dollars worth of forged paintings. Let me tell you about the sexy ladies I've slept with and the drugs I've done."
Barbara Williams
I will first start this review by saying WOW. Now when I mean wow, I mean it in the sense that Ken Perenyi's life is like watching one of those crazy documentaries on the history channel, which you are pretty sure are fabricated, but it is just so FASCINATING (and you can't find the remote to change the channel anyway.) Ken lived near ANDY WARHOL and even sold a fake painting to him! Roy Cohn saved Ken from getting evicted from his apartment! Ken tricked Sotheby's into buying one of his painting ...more
John Frazier
Apr 21, 2013 John Frazier rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Caveat Emptor." Let the buyer beware. When I bought Ken Perenyi's book of the same name, I assumed he was referring to the buyers of his forged art. Turns out to be a more appropriate warning for buyers of this book.

Perenyi was in New York in the late '60s and early '70s, during which time he stumbled into acquaintances with several of the city's more famous personalities, including Andy Warhol and lawyer Roy Cohn. In fact, much of this book is a testament to name-dropping, none of which gives
Oct 20, 2012 Sps rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 300s
So tawdry it cracks me up. Perenyi can't wait to tell readers about how he hung out with the rich and glamorous at their mansions, clubs, and art galleries, how much money he made for each fake painting, what kind of drugs he and his friends were doing and what gourmet foods they were eating. But of course he's the underdog, a blue-collar boy from New Jersey who's just trying to survive. Blink blink blink. There's a wonderful moment where he reads Dickens' Hard Times in his unheated studio (prob ...more
Alison Liaboe
Reader beware.

I was appalled by this true story of an art forger‘s seemingly nonchalant lifelong deception while at the same time amazed at Mr. Perenyi’s technical aptitude for and appreciation of 19th century American and British paintings.

Unskilled out of technical college, a young Ken Perenyi was introduced to New York City’s art and drug scene at a very young age. He quickly learns he has an aptitude for faking art and, hungry for money, he finds a use for his new-found talent and enters a
Aug 21, 2013 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perenyi's book is a fast read, full of the interesting tales of a successful and unrepentant art forger. If that sounds interesting, you'll likely enjoy this book well enough.

That said, unlike Perenyi's forgeries, his book is far from a masterpiece. To start, it's not very well written - it's passable, but that's about all. It could charitably be described as conversational in tone, but ultimately, the weak writing detracts.

As well, there is very little in the way of character development, or e
Oct 29, 2016 Gina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Isn't there a rule about how if you're going to write a memoir about a life of crime and deception, you need to end it with some degree of contrition and remorse? There should be, because it's so annoying to finish a book and be like, this guy is very talented and also a total jerk. The grand finale is him ripping someone off for $750,000. That makes me feel bad inside. It seems to have no effect on Ken Perenyi at all; in fact it makes him want to write a book and brag about it. This is what we ...more
Feb 18, 2015 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Homeboy was one obnoxious character. If you're great at what you do (painting), let the work speak for itself. Do not pick another medium you'r not good at (writing) to tell me how awesome you are. Unless it's on twitter. That's fine on twitter.
Apr 17, 2017 BarbaraW rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thought this was a fun unusual read. I got caught up in how the author pulled this off!

As a teenager, Ken Perenyi was an aimless youth, with no interest in school or his future. He barely graduates from trade school and does not learn a trade. Had it not been for some artist he befriends in an old mansion in New Jersey, he would have had no interest at all. There are wild parties, club hopping, lots of getting high and at some point Perenyi shows an interest in art and painting. His friends take him to museums and educate him in the world of art. He learns to paint and while viewi
Sep 27, 2012 Scot rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's almost as if two different people wrote the first and second halves of this book. The first half is written sort of stream of consciousness, with no editing and little sense of style or organization. It has a lot of celebrity name dropping and is chockablock with curious or unbelievable anecdotes told in an amateurish way--which leads me to believe much of it must be true, because why would anyone make up such unconnected and odd claims?

Perenyi's colorful life among the hipsters, the avant
Allan Kaplan
Another writer called this "tawdry," and that really describes it. What a lousy book, written by an even lousier person. Perenyi is really a loser who takes advantage of any person and any situation that serves him; he's a real scumbag. If he'd really had talent, he could have really made it, considering the people and contacts who purports to have known, but he hung out with deadbeats and blew every honest opportunity he ever had. I've read that the book was ghostwritten for him, and that makes ...more
Marci Mac
Nov 10, 2012 Marci Mac rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with most reviews stating that the writing is bland and because of it, the first few chapters are very hard to get through. But once he starts talking about art, passion and knowledge take over and make for an exciting story with a wonderful voice. For me, my conceptions of bad and simple writing disappeared when he met Sonny the art restorer and Jimmy the American Art expert. After those key moments, which unfortunately takes about 1/5 of the book to get to, the life of true forgery and ...more
Christopher Buehlman
I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Perenyi at writer's workshops in Florida and hearing early versions of some of the chapters contained in this fascinating book. Ken's style is matter-of-fact and refreshingly devoid of crocodile tears and hand-wringing. He did some unethical but lucrative things, he got away with them, and here he tells us how. Period. We may not share Mr. Perenyi's outlook on the world, but that's precisely what is so interesting about this no-frills peek into real-life art for ...more
Sep 14, 2012 Kasandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fabulously entertaining and full of detail about how he pulled off more than 30 years of forgeries, Perenyi illuminates the world of art dealers, collectors, and auction houses in a way that will most likely make you not feel quite so bad for those people who bought his works, believing they were authentic. Great photos in the book, and an envious description of a rollicking lifestyle in New York, Miami, and London from the late 60s onward.
Adrianne Adelle
This was pretty well written and very interesting to anyone who has even the slightest bit of art world knowledge. The description of the author lifestyle at times was not as interesting to me as the actual artistic techniques and theories he was using to make elaborate famous fakes.

Worth a read for any art history buff or art collector. It is an unbelievable true story.
I read this book knowing little about the author or the topic, other than it had to do with art forgery. Perhaps that explains some of my enthusiasm for this book too. I think it is a wonderful thing to jump into a book knowing little or nothing about it, and then become lost in the world of the book. That is what happened to me. I didn't even know if this was a fiction or non-fiction book. From the start, I was pulled right in. The story of a young man, with no known talents and not direction i ...more
Jaclyn Day
Early in this book, Perenyi paints a collage for his friends inspired by their recent acid trip. That sets the tone for the rest of this unbelievable-if-it-weren't-actually-true story in which Perenyi forges popular 18th and 19th century American painters and successfully sells them to dealers and prestigious auction houses, including Sotheby's and Christie's. After moving temporarily to Bath in England, he begins to sell sporting portraits in London as well (jockeys, horses, dogs, etc.) Since t ...more
Dec 03, 2015 Ryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a bizarre little book. It’s everything I didn’t want it to be. I am really interested in hoaxes and have even visited the art hoax museum in Vienna. This book was a huge disappointment.

The first half of the book is about the crazy 70’s! Did you know people took drugs in the 70's? Do you know who Andy Warhol is? There is very little that's enlightening in the first half of the book if you want to know how Perenyi came to be a talented artist or decided that it was okay to make art fakes.

Jul 21, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My book club decided on Caveat Emptor by Ken Perenyi, a memoir about his life as an art forger. Perenyi's writing style is simple and dry, his art is in painting, after all; but the book is interesting at the very least. We are taken through Pernyi's young adulthood into present times and see how his career develops and how he adapts to challenges. The book is filled with an array of characters you'd imagine a person coming into contact with through such a line of work. Perenyi becomes friends w ...more
Jun 12, 2013 Christine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
What led me to this book was the book description itself … “Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front–page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence col ...more
Mar 17, 2013 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, nonfiction
Ken Perenyi got his start as a master art forger during the sixties when, as a high school dropout from New Jersey, he began to hang out with major figures in the New York art scene. Intrigued by the art, he himself begins to paint, uncovering a remarkable talent. Not only is he able to paint surreal masterpieces, he is also able to mimick any painting from any master artist.

When money begins to run low, he starts making forgeries to make ends meet. Rather than imitating known paintings, he uses
Apr 08, 2013 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
never caught (though apparently the FBI came close), and now the statute of limitations has run out, so this book is I guess the art forger's equivalent of spiking the ball in the end zone.

He doesn't deal that much with the issue of motivation. Between the lines, it just seems as though he wanted money, figured out somewhat serendipitously that he could get it by imitating the style of old, famous painters and palming off his works as being originals of theirs, and that was that. He gets stresse
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Born in 1949 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ken Perenyi is a self-taught artist who painted his first pictures during the Summer of Love in 1967, having discovered an uncanny ability to intuitively grasp the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Old Masters. A series of fateful events resulted in what was to become a thirty-year career as a professional art forger. Today he operates his own studio in Ma ...more
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