The Conspiracy Theorists Lose Court Case Round #5 – Otavnik v Sinclair
In 2010, the fifth Morrisseau-related court case came about, when Joe Otavnik took a rather late-blooming Conspiracy Theorist, Ritchie Sinclair, to court, for publicly defaming and devaluing his painting “Jesuit Preist Brings Word 1974” as a forgery. Sinclair may have started late, climbing aboard the Conspiracy Theory train, but he made up for it, with ferocity, once he got going.
Ritchie Sinclair owns a website on which he has posted over 1,000 low resolution images gathered from all over the web, of paintings created in the 1970s by Canada’s most famous Aboriginal artist, Norval Morrisseau.
Sinclair has declared that all these 1000 paintings are forgeries – “Inferior Counterfeits” – even though he has never seen, or personally examined, over 99% of them, and even though they were all painted long before Sinclair had even heard of Norval Morrisseau, or even seen a copy of painting by him, according to Sinclair’s own court testimony in 2012.
Astonishingly, the 1000 paintings that have been labelled as forgeries by Sinclair include paintings that are in famous art museums that exhibit First Nations art: the Canadian Senate Chamber, the Smithsonian Institution, Winnipeg Art Gallery, University of Victoria Art Gallery, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, University of Oklahoma Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, McMaster University Art Collection.
Strange Bedfellows – Jonathan Browne, who had been spectacularly wrong about his own expertise in art and the friends he chose to rely on, now travelled from Ottawa to court to show his support for Ritchie Sinclair. Sitting together with Margaret Hatfield, another clueless beginning art collector – whom he’d met on an internet date, they hoped to watch the judge denounce “Jesuit Preist” as a forgery.
The duo of neophyte art collectors would be hugely disappointed. “Jesuit Preist” would be certified as a genuine Morrisseau by a top Canadian forensic scientist.
Making this “2 for 2” for Browne in falsely calling a genuine Morrisseau a fake. Proving, you may have a Ph.D. in dung beetles, but know bugger all about art.
Memory Loss: Norval Morrisseau & Principal Morrisseau Dealer
In one of the more surreal moments in Canadian art history Sinclair has labelled as forgeries -“Inferior Counterfeits” as he likes to call them – five paintings chosen by Morrisseau himself, for inclusion in his book “Travels to the House of Invention,” written by the artist and published in 1997 by Donald Robinson of the Kinsman Robinson Galleries.
We have already shown above (Court Case #3) that by the time of his frenzied Affidavit of Forgery signing period (Mar 14, 2003 – Apr 8, 2005) Norval couldn’t tell authentic from fake works of his own art.
By 2003, Norval’s physical and mental deterioration, which accelerated rapidly after the mid 90s, are demonstrable in videos as early as 1997, and dramatically so by April 2002. That Norval had largely “left the building” by early 2002, was testified to by his brother, Wolf Morrisseau. And Norval’s documented and egregious errors in authentication of his own work are clear as early as 2001.
All this is reported by numerous independent observers who saw and interacted with Norval at the time, and is completely understandable for an artist who had abused his body, for decades, with an overload of alcohol-based substances (boxes of shaving lotion, and perfume, etc.,) volatile drugs, and wild sex of every kind, with anything handy: animal, mineral, or vegetable.
We only mention these things because of the fact that Donald Robinson’s mind is clearly not as good as Norval Morrisseau’s.
Forgetfulness coming with advancing age can be the only reason and excuse for why the Principal Morrisseau Dealer and Principal Conspiracy Theorist, has consistently and aggressively denied Norval’s precipitous decline that everyone else saw, maintaining that Norval never felt better, that his mind had never been sharper, and telling Murray Whyte of the National Post in May 2001, that Norval, at that time, had total recall of every one of the 10,000 paintings he had ever painted in his 50 year career.
And, in an explosion of bravura bombast, said it was “preposterous” for Whyte to question that reality.
But other “experts” draw attention to Robinson’s own forgetfulness and highly defective memory.
Thanks to proof supplied to the public by Ritchie Sinclair, Norval’s mental decline apparently started much earlier, and was clearly in play, and visible in a book, “Travels to the House of Invention,” as early as 1997. And was not caught by Donald Robinson.
The evidence Sinclair brings to the table is powerful indeed, and hard to beat, even by Donald Robinson.
For five years Sinclair has publicly posted this proof that Norval could no longer reliably recognize his own work, and neither – of course – did Donald Robinson, who calls himself the Principal Morrisseau Dealer, and was the publisher of the book containing the forgeries identified by Sinclair.
Sinclair apparently considers himself a superior authority over both the artist himself, and his principal dealer Donald Robinson. And is not shy in saying so…
- Sorry Ma! – Be that as it may, what is incontrovertible is that when Donald Robinson re-issued a very slightly modified book, “Return to the House of Invention,” in 2005, with only a sparse few sentences of text changed, he stunningly dropped out the entire section which Sinclair objected to, and claimed was full of forgeries…
And who’s to disagree on that as being a good move…?
Premiere Performance: the Don and Ritchie Show
Now in 2010, faced with a lawsuit for defamation of title by Joseph Otavnik, Sinclair and Robinson chose to join forces, and became a tag-team that would work together as courtroom performers.
The “Don and Ritchie Show” would make a number of courtroom appearances over the next few years, and become the public face of the Conspiracy Theory, with the duo eagerly putting themselves, with their controversial theories, front and centre, into the public spotlight like absolutely no one had ever done before in the history of Canadian art.
Or for that matter, in Canadian business. With the possible exception of Ex-Conrad Black…
Though, because Ritchie was dragged into court, and was depending on his business associate and fellow Conspiracy Theorist to help get him out of a jam, they had little choice on their first outing together.
This was to be the very first time that Conspiracy Theorists had to “put up or shut up” in front of a judge.
(Note: Remember that Gabe Vadas, Norval Morrisseau, the Globe executives, Val Ross, and Aaron Milrad had all, chosen to “cut a deal and run,” refusing to face a judge in earlier court cases; remember too, that in over 12 years, no Conspiracy Theorist has ever taken anyone to court, either for being a forger, or for selling alleged forgeries. Not one…)
For Ritchie Sinclair’s defence, Donald Robinson fabricated an elaborate and huge 114 page “expert report,” calling the painting “Jesuit Preist Brings Word 1974” a forgery.
Alas! He disappointed countless readers who eagerly thumbed through his report, for an explanation as to how, as a self-proclaimed Morrisseau expert with 18 years experience,
1 – he had ended up, at a Randy Potter auction, buying 31 BDPs that were painted in a similar style, and signed, titled and dated exactly like “Jesuit Preist,” and paying $54,000 to buy them?
2 – how and when he discovered they were fakes?
3 – and why was he sure now, when he wasn’t then?
4 – and how he came to be so utterly wrong, so many times, in bidding some 90 times in all, on 90 different lots of those exactly similar kind of paintings?
5 – And why – if you can believe this? – that he took back another painting he claimed was a fake, demanding a refund for $267.50, but never, ever, bringing back a single Morrisseau – not one – never asking for a refund, never even complaining to Potter that they were fake, and just throwing $54,000 down the drain…?
Seriously now, 90 bids on fakes is a lot of bad calls by any standard; especially by the person who claimed to be the world’s top expert acting in his chosen field of specialization. The Principal Morrisseau Dealer, acting supposedly at the peak of his expertise after 18 years at it…
- I would hope that if a “Principal” Surgeon at a hospital was asked to remove tonsils and ended up cutting off the patient’s testicles by mistake, his operating privileges would be removed.
Well by the second or third time he did it, at least?
But doing it 90 times…?
In the Canadian fine art world you apparently still get to keep your job and keep buying and selling and authenticating art… And get to keep calling yourself “Principal Morrisseau Dealer” when you should be calling yourself, more properly, “Principal Testicle Remover.”
Robinson did allow, to Judge Martial twice, that he was a bit of a dunce, but that his son Paul was wiser than he was, and caught on to the fakes quicker and tried to dissuade him from continuing to buy more suspect Potter paintings. Really? Now why would he say something so silly?
- “At, at one point, I was still convinced that they were good and my son, who’s running the gallery today, tried to tell me they were not good and I still overrode him and bought a few…” (Court Transcripts, p 18, Hatfield v Child May 31, 2011)
In case you missed his testimony in May 2011, Robinson repeated it for you, in court testimony a year later.
- “I should say that my son, Paul, after about half-way through when those purchases were made, perhaps five or six at a time at various auctions, my son Paul at the gallery, who now runs the gallery, he told me that I should not buy any more and he was suspicious of them, and I argued with him and bought a few more, to my great regret.”
Q. Okay, so your son had suspicions…
A. He did.
Q. …you didn’t. (Court Transcripts, p 20, Hatfield v Child Feb 23, 2012)
Which is all so very odd indeed, because two documents exist which prove exactly the opposite – that it was Paul who introduced his Dad to the mother lode of genuine Morrisseaus at Potter’s in the first place. Paul’s signature on an appraisal of two paintings from the Potter auction is on a document that immediately predates his father attending his first buying spree there.
The evidence is pretty clear that far from trying to dissuade his father from going to Potter’s, it was in fact Paul, after being alerted by the paintings Matt Fountain brought into the gallery to be authenticated, who sent his Dad to investigate this sudden flood of Morrisseaus being auctioned.
Thanks to Paul’s auction alert, it’s pretty clear, that his father then went to numerous auctions, bid on 90 lots and ended up with 31 Morrisseau BDP paintings.
There is a second document also signed by Paul, on another appraisal of two paintings of the same type from the same auction, issued a full five months after his father told the National Post that all the paintings at Randy Potter’s were fakes…
He should have told his son who apparently still hadn’t wised up many months later and was still cashing in on appraisals, for Potter-sourced paintings his Dad had been calling fakes for months…
…Back to Robinson’s Expert Report – Oh, yeah, and another thing. Donald Robinson also did not explain how a three-year degree in electrical engineering, qualifies him to engage in forensic document examination and sophisticated handwriting analysis, when experts that the RCMP use for this highly specialized science, like Dr. Atul K Singla, have spent many years of dedicated study at universities on two continents, on only those specific areas of scholarship.
And taken further university courses over the passing decades, to stay abreast of all the latest international developments in one of the most complex sciences there is.
Singla has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Forensic Science, and a further two year diploma from a UK university beyond that. He has testified as an expert witness in his chosen profession, over 500 times.
Alas! Dr. Singla, charges for his expert services, and it’s not cheap; Donald Robinson prepared his huge report for Sinclair for free, saying he did it as a public service.
Hey, it’s a free country!
Every night millions post comments to thousands of media blogs around the world, offering proof, for free, if any was needed, that in a free society you don’t need to be qualified to say whatever you feel the urge to, or for that matter, be ashamed to promote your business in any way you like.
And who hasn’t received all those spam emails offering you advanced degrees or certificates to help impress your clients?
During the trial, both Robinson and Sinclair testified at length and with great passion, that Judge MD Godfrey should dismiss “Jesuit Preist” as a totally worthless and diabolical fake.
In his finding, Judge MD Godfrey completely ignored the passionate testimony and “expert report,” of the Conspiracy Theorists, and told Otavnik, that the integrity of his painting was as intact – authentic if you will – as it was the day he bought it.
He pointedly refused to call it a fake, deliberately ignoring the strong demands to rule it as a forgery from the opposition. In fact he upped the ante against them, by assuring Joe Otavnik that there was no evidence that their attacks had even done any damage to it, or depreciated its value, since Otavnik had not tried to sell it.
Judge Godfrey dismissed the case without costs, neither burdening Otavnik with court costs, nor finding that his painting was a forgery, or that its value was even damaged by all the bluster from those clamouring for him to call it a fake.
Further, he chided Otavnik for trying to save money by not getting an independent scientific forensic examination, for “Jesuit Preist,” and seemed to recommend he do so.
He clearly implied that had Otavnik produced such a forensics report of authenticity his judgment would have been more decisive.
Otavnik later did exactly what Judge Godfrey suggested.
On Dec 19, 2011, one of Canada’s top forensic document examiners and handwriting analysis experts, Kenneth J Davies, found that the painting “Jesuit Preist Brings Word 1974,” which had been publicly defamed by the Conspiracy Theorists as a forgery, in fact, had been signed with DNA certainty, by Norval Morrisseau, and that no one else could have.
Foiled by Forensics Part 5 – This was the fifth stunning rebuff in a court case, as to the reliability of the Conspiracy Theorists, as credible authenticators of what are authentic Morrisseaus and forgeries.
This was also the first time a painting Conspiracy Theorists called a cheap, worthless forgery, was de facto, confirmed as authentic by a judge, who absolutely refused to allow the slightest taint thrown by Robinson and Sinclair to stick to the painting, which – as a great credit to Judge Godfrey’s far-sightedness – was subsequently further authenticated, with DNA certainty, by an independent scientist as a genuine Morrisseau.
The case of Otavnik v Sinclair left the “Don and Ritchie Show” batting “0 for 1”… ; not a promising start for the Principal Morrisseau Dealer and his acolyte, business associate, and fellow Principal Conspiracy Theorist.
They would have to retire back to the drawing room at the Kinsman Robinson Galleries, to reshape the program for their next performance as a tag-team. And try to make up for their dismal showing at Otavnik v Sinclair.