Inside the rapid rise, suspected frauds and the sudden disappearance of the art world’s most wanted man
In February 2020, the artist Christian Rosa flew to Mexico City for the Zona Maco art fair. Serious merchants who gathered south of the border saw Rosa and surmised that he had once again encountered the world art festival circuit during his last stopover. Last October, Rosa had organized several evenings in her Parisian apartment during the FIAC. And in May 2019, Rosa chose to drive to the opening of the Venice Biennale from Switzerland.
But for Rosa, Mexico was different. He was set to be represented by OMR, one of Rome’s most respected galleries, and he could finally return to the good graces of the art world after a promising start that led to a half -decade during which his works were sold at auctions and dealers. refused to offer shows. As collectors from New York and Los Angeles ascended the stairs to OMR’s rooftop garden, scaling the brutalist edifice to admire Roma and Condesa, the owner of the gallery, Cristóbal Riestra, took Rosa around, showing off her new addition to the artist list.
The honeymoon did not last long.
“OMR reproduced its work. They were the only gallery to really resurrect its reputation, and it screwed it up, ”said Joseph Ian Henrikson, the founder of the New York gallery Anonymous, who was in town that year to open an exhibition at his Mexico City branch. They had met before, the gallerist and the artist, and while chatting with Rosa on the roof, Henrikson almost brought up an aftermarket deal that almost involved them both in December 2019. It was an odd offer. where a record company director said he had access to works on the waves impossible to find in Raymond Pettibon, because they were part of the collection of Pettibon’s good friend, Christian Rosa.
It was a deal that would eventually lead to criminal charges against Rosa that could land him in jail for decades.
“He had the opportunity to return to the art world,” Henrikson said this week, 12 days after federal authorities indicted Rosa. “And he just fucked him.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York indicted Rosa – he’s referred to by her full name, Christian Rosa Weinberger – with one count of wire fraud conspiracy, one count of wire fraud, and of an aggravated charge of identity theft. . The wire fraud charges alone could get him 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence. The aggravated charge of identity theft carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
The charges stem from what authorities say is an elaborate scam ploy, first exposed in my report to Artnet earlier this year. (Although the press release announcing the indictment cited my reporting, I did not speak to federal authorities.) It would have gone like this: Rosa was taking unfinished drawings from the studio of Pettibon, her former mentor, finished them himself, then offered to dealers and advisers as if they were legitimate. As the indictment indicates in the emails and texts obtained, Rosa and at least one associate knew the works were fake and had to create false certificates of authenticity in order to get the work out on the secondary market.
For a while the alleged scam worked very well. A work was purchased by a cheek from the music world in LA. One of them has been said to have been briefly in the collection of the son of a billionaire fashion mogul. But once word was out, Rosa’s downfall was swift, perhaps even preordained. The artist never kept the promise of the first solo exhibitions at White Cube in London and was naked as to his desire for fame. And so, when news of his alleged criminal activity broke, the bored art world in the midst of a pandemic winter found a big dose of schadenfreude in the story of a crook who needed help. ‘scam collectors with fakes because he couldn’t sell his own original work. Rosa was also clearly affected. The day after my previous article was published, according to the indictment, he emailed his partner in his alleged crime to say, “The secret is out.”
Rosa refused to speak to me when contacted by mutual friends, although it seems he couldn’t help it entirely. Gossip spread that Rosa said I had to “watch my back” and threatened to have my wife fired from her job. The chatter stopped at the end of February, when I learned that he had fled to Europe.
The FBI says he does not currently know his whereabouts. My own attempts to contact him for this column were unsuccessful.
“Mr. Weinberger may believe he escaped justice when he fled the country earlier this year, but the FBI and our partners have international reach and unwavering determination,” said the deputy director in charge of FBI. Michael J. Driscoll said in the indictment.
But sources I spoke to after the indictment indicated that Rosa may be hiding in plain sight.
In May 2015, Rosa closed a new 11,000 square foot studio space in the downtown LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights. It was the culmination of his fleeting but powerful run as a darling of the world art circuit. The previous June, he presented a sold-out exhibition at the Berlin Gallery of Contemporary Fine Arts, and his work caused a frenzy among collectors. founder of CFA Bruno Brunnet told Bloomberg that he sold a painting of Rosa at the Art Basel booth in Switzerland for almost $ 34,000 and that demand for the work was at its peak.
“I could have sold it 20 times,” Brunnet said.
Collectors of his work who often passed through the studio included Jay Z and Leonardo DiCaprio. And in June 2015, he had his first solo show at White Cube, the London-based celebrity creation gallery founded by cheerleader YBA. Jay Jopling. This turned out to be his latest exhibition at the gallery, and after another exhibition at the CFA in 2016, he was removed from the artist list in January 2019. He needed the money – sources described him as a compulsive spender who gorges himself on sprees five-figure designer shopping even though he owed monthly rent arrears.
Hanging on the wall of his studio in Boyle Heights were several large works by Pettibon of surfers hanging from ten. Pettibon has long worked his way into the outskirts of the art world, making record covers and flyers for his brother. Greg ginnfrom Black Flag and other hardcore bands from SoCal. But in 2019, Pettibon had been replaced for years by a troika of potentates from the art world: David Zwirner At New York, Shaun Caley Regen in Los Angeles and Sadie coles in London. Together, they controlled the market while ensuring that the prices of his landmark work – in punk spirit but impressionistic in scope – rose higher and higher.
He also continued to exhibit with CFA, the Berlin gallery with an integrated stage that Pettibon had hooked with since the 90s. It was through the gallery in the 2010s that he met Brunnet’s new rising star, Rosa , and they became quick friends, hanging out in their respective studios and painting their portraits for an exhibition at the Hole Gallery in New York. Sources described him as a mentor. One of them noted that Rosa often took Pettibon to play at her favorite haunt: the dog track.
When Rosa’s alleged Pettibon works began to circulate among art advisers, it was not difficult to think that Pettibon’s line to Rosa was entirely plausible.