Hearne: Down & Out in Santa Fe & The Great Crosby Kemper Art Hoax

220px-O'Keeffe-(hands)It’s back to the desert southwest, this time to Santa Fe, New Mexico

One hour north of the Breaking Badlands of Albuquerque, it’s amazing how many refugees of Kansas City (even Lawrence and Topeka) one can run into in this sleepy tourist and artist enclave.

With a population of only 60,000 and change – around 100,000 for the county, I’m told – it’s a land of intriguing restaurants, modest desert climes and more junk Native American art and jewelry than you can shake a stick at.

images-3Seriously, I’ve never seen such a formidable concentration of faux turquoise knick-knacks, beaded wallets and belts, cowboy boots and hats and ridiculous-looking, gigantic metal sculptures being passed off as yard art.

Can an entire city’s economic underpinnings be built on junk such as this?


However, when I think of Santa Fe – other than as a way station between KC and Tucson – I’m reminded most of the infamous Georgia O’Keeffe art defrauding of iconic Kansas City banker R. Crosby Kemper Jr.

Brief aside: Word on the street is that after a couple of tumultuous years in his personal life, The Big C contracted the Big C – as in cancer – and gale force winds of change in the Kemper family banking ranks could be just around the corner.

All that aside, lets revisit Kemper’s O’Keeffe art fraud debacle.

In a nutshell, in 1993 Kemper dropped five million buckos on 24 watercolors alleged to have been painted by O’Keeffe, then unloaded them a year later as an “inaugural gift” on his fledgling Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Five years later Kemper learned they were fake.

Gerald Peters GalleryThe perpetrator of the hoax – however inadvertently – being the Gerald Peters Gallery here in Santa Fe.

Which brings us to the here and now, where Peters’ gallery is still going strong and will be getting a visit from yours truly today. Think of it as a Memorial Day tribute to perhaps the greatest art embarrassment ever to befall KC.

Picture12Here’s the deal:

I just spoke with the gallery and they’re open today until 5 p.m. They also just happen to have “a couple” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s on display and for sale.

So we’ll see what, if anything, they now say of the experience with Kemper, the lessons learned, you name it.

Stand by.



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4 Responses to Hearne: Down & Out in Santa Fe & The Great Crosby Kemper Art Hoax

  1. paulwilsonkc says:

    Out of favorite trips I’ve made all over the world, one of the most enjoyable was taking the train from KC to Santa Fe. Great ride down with ever changing scenery along the way. A lot more expensive that airfare, but there’s a reason. Run up to Toas, well worth the short drive up.

  2. Lee says:

    Snap a photo of the O’Keefe’s and post them.

  3. chuck says:

    O’Keefe’s paintings always make me hungry for sea food.

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