Two little-known gallerists were arrested Thursday for counterfeiting paintings by infamous former Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, the latest example of Egypt’s worsening art forgery problem.
Hosni, 77, served as former President Hosni Mubarak’s culture minister for 24 years, but is also a practicing artist mostly known for his splashy abstract paintings. He made a comeback to the local art scene in December 2014 after a four-year break with an exhibition of new works at the state-run Mahmoud Khalil Museum.
The former minister had filed a police report alleging that several forged duplicates of his works were on show in the Alex Design Gallery and the Masdy Gallery in Cairo’s Zamalek and Heliopolis districts, according to privately owned newspaper Al-Watan. The paintings were advertised in a lifestyle magazine called Al-Beit.
Police visited a Heliopolis gallery and confiscated 21 counterfeit paintings with fake Farouk Hosni signatures that were waiting to be sold, the paper said. The two art dealers have reportedly confessed to the crime, but a third suspect is still at large, and is believed to reside in Greece, according to Al-Watan.
Hosni lost his post as minister after the January 2011 uprising, and remains a controversial figure despite a 2013 acquittal on corruption and embezzlement charges.
Initially appointed culture minister in 1987 and consistently re-appointed, in 2005 he submitted his resignation after he was accused of negligence when a fire at the Beni Suef Culture Center killed 46 theater-goers. Mubarak refused to accept his resignation.
In 2009, Hosni was widely expected to become the first UNESCO director to hail from the Arab world, but lost the nomination after critics circulated his incendiary remarks advocating for burning Israeli books in Egyptian libraries. In statements to the media, Hosni blamed his loss on a Zionist plot.
When charged with embezzling LE9 million, Hosni’s defense team claimed that he had no need for illicit gains, because he sold his paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A 1987 acrylic painting by Hosni sold at a Christie’s auction in 2007 for US$12,500.
Art forgery cases have increased in Egypt in the past few years, with copies and fake reproductions sold domestically and abroad — but so far, cases have largely surrounded works wrongly attributed to late Egyptian artists, rather than to living ones.
The family of Egyptian modernist artist Abdel Hadi al-Gazzar (1925-1966) recently launched a legal case against art forgery. An art dealer and an employee at the Antiquities Ministry are accused of selling fake copies of paintings with falsified certificates of authenticity. The authorities found 30 works misattributed to modernist painters Ragheb Ayad, Samir Rafi and Gazzar in their possession.
Artist Taha Qorany told the privately owned Bawaba news portal earlier this year that forgeries start in galleries and auction houses. He called for a supervisory committee capable of confirming the authenticity of works shown in galleries and sold in auctions, a call echoed and elaborated on by gallerist and art consultant Fatenn Mostafa Kanafani in a recent article for Mada Masr.