The Conspiracy Theorists Lose Court Case Round #1 – Otavnik v Vadas & Morrisseau
In 2007 the first Morrisseau-related legal suit came about when a collector and art dealer, Joe Otavnik, took Principal Conspiracy Theorists, Norval Morrisseau, and his longtime companion and business manager Gabor Vadas, to court, demanding they show up in front of a judge and either “put up or shut up” about a number of his paintings which they called forgeries.
Heffel (Vancouver, BC) had, at the last minute, delisted several of his paintings from a fine art auction, after it received a threatening letter from Vadas that also included Morrisseau’s signature, calling them forgeries.
It is important to remember that Canada’s fine art auctioneers sell thousands of paintings, every year, from many hundreds of different artists. They are merely mass commodity salesmen, exactly like any other mass marketers – Walmart, Best Buy, IKEA – and are involved in, and getting their profits, by moving masses of material at auctions – thousands of paintings by hundreds of artists every year.
Fine art auctioneers don’t care about, or have loyalty, to an individual sale; they have not – cannot, by definition of what they do, selling thousands of paintings annually, created by literally hundreds of artists – have specific knowledge on the painting characteristics of any single artist specific enough to tell if a painting is authentic or fake.
(Note: And that is also why Provenance is totally impossible to get for 99.94% of the paintings you buy in any fine art auction or art gallery. Which is completely immaterial anyway, because, even if the auction had the knowledge, they all have a cast-in-stone policy to never, ever, divulge even the name of the consignor who brought the painting in to sell.
So there is no way you will ever learn from him/her/them what they know about the history of the painting. Whether it’s real or fake?; whether it’s a son ripping off his invalid mom in the nursing home, and taking his share of the estate before the sibblings catch on?; whether it’s a crooked employee at a regional museum fencing off a stored painting from the basement? The list is endless. You have to learn that YOU must practice “due diligence” to inform yourself what you’re buying. You wont’ learn anything useful from anyone else. And certainly not from “motivated sellers,” who have to move way too damn much product to be able to familiarize themselves with any of it in detail.)
Which is exactly why the Mafia uses fine art auctions to launder money and why a lot of stolen European or American art shows up there as well. Auction policy of total secrecy makes them untraceable. Everyone is guaranteed total confidentiality. It keeps customers coming back… all kinds of customers…
Which all means that you as the buyer will learn absolutely nothing reliable from anyone involved in selling a painting to you, if you are foolish enough to stick your neck out and ask, “Aaah… what can you tell me about the provenance of that painting?” More on the implications of all that, to come.)
Hell, provenance of a painting is not important to them; the sale of one painting is immaterial, inconsequential to their bottom line. “Harry, move those two hundred paintings on the trolley to the other storage locker. We need the space to make room for the 75 Bateman prints someone just brought in.”
Which is why the Heffel art experts folded like a cheap suit, when they got the threatening letter from Vadas and Morrisseau. The Heffel “art experts” hadn’t a clue about whether lots # 027, # 030, # 032, # 033, # 035, and # 036, out of the thousands they were selling in 2006, were fake or authentic.
So rather than make a stand on either principle or knowledge, they just unceremoniously cut and run.
Not Joe Otavnik, one of many passionate, knowledgeable, and principled collectors of Morrisseau works of art.
In a cheeky – and a daring – move he said to Vadas – Norval as usual wasn’t talking to anyone – “OK, you guys say the painting is a fake. Give me a signed Affidavit of Forgery, signed by Norval, that the paintings I consigned to Heffel are fakes…”
Vadas and Morrisseau recoiled, and utterly refused to do so. You know, go before a notary to answer questions like “Are you Norval Morrisseau? Are you of sound mind and body? Do you recognize these attached paintings as fakes? Do you recognize yourself, when you look in the mirror? Kindly sign here.”
In fact many, who know the file well, say that Norval at this time was so physically incapacitated and mentally debilitated, that he couldn’t communicate anything to anyone – and that includes a notary and a judge – or have a clue about the contents of anything that was put in front of him to sign. Or, they say pointedly, have a clue of what was in the “cease and desist” letter Gabe Vadas sent to Heffel in the first place…
In fact many, who knew Norval, say that by 2006 – and for years before – he had no clue about what was really going on and was being totally manipulated by others.
In court testimony, in 2012, art retailer Joe McLeod, after over 50 years involvement with Morrisseau paintings, and who has kept contact with the family since 1960, called the manipulation of Morrisseau in his last years by his business managers, a clear case of elder abuse, which countless others, close to the situation, had been saying for years.
(The accusations of elder abuse would be resurrected during the Hatfield v Child case.)
Furthermore, no one could recall Norval ever denouncing forgeries of any kind; not writing it; not saying it on audio tape; or not doing so on video tape.
Norval, is the call, became Conspiracy Theorist Proxy #1, of a growing list of them that the Conspiracy Theorists actually manipulated to speak for them. They chose to use naïve spokesmen and women “puppets” to work through and get them to publicize their claim about forgers and forgeries via the media and the courts.
Norval was always given as the justification for the claim of the existence of forgeries and forgers. Donald Robinson always justified every claim he made by saying “Norval says” which was his way of saying, “so it has to be true.” As well, of course, as his way of evading and excusing personal responsibility.
And journalists, a chronically lazy and uncritical bunch, especially when celebrities, or Yorkville gallery owners are involved, or when someone else is eager to do their thinking for them, repeated the hokum dutifully and without question, and then quickly moved on to reach a deadline with another article on another topic.
Norval would be the “excuse” for the accusations of forgeries; he would, of course, also be the fall guy in the end, when the whole fragile house of cards came tumbling down. You know, “Norval made us do it; there’s his signature.” Nice…!
Still in one of the most courageous – and frankly scary – acts in Canadian cultural history, Joe Otavnik did something no one else had ever done – had ever dared – to do before: he challenged the creator, Norval Morrisseau, of an original work of art, to come to court and tell a judge – show a judge – his proof of why a painting he said wasn’t his – indeed was a forgery – just as he had supposedly claimed to Heffel, and to the public.
Otavnik offered Norval a venue so he could use this God-sent opportunity to defend his painting heritage, stomp out a diabolical forgery for good, expose Joe Otavnik as a creep, a fraud artist, as he and Vadas were intimating to the public, and prove why Otavnik should be sent to jail for a long stretch for selling forgeries.
And then to finish everything off, burn the damn paintings… in public…
Hey, he might even turn out to be one of the forgers the Conspiracy Theorists claimed were all over the place, making thousands of forgeries. Who could tell what a little water-boarding on Otavnik might produce about exposing, for the police, the entire network of fakes, frauds, and forgeries that the Conspiracy Theorists claimed were out there?
Which was, of course, exactly what the Conspiracy Theorists had been trying, in every way possible, to convince the public was the case.
Now they had their chance at last, to nail Otavnik’s hide to the wall.
And he gave them the hammer and the nails to do the job…
And all they needed was a single painting. They had six forgeries to pick from – or so they told the Heffel boys – as well as a perpetrator, Joe Otavnik, whom they had caught red-handed, with those six compromising “fakes.”
Hell, it was all so easy. Now all they needed was Norval to come to court and say his piece.
Knowing he had bitten off more than anyone else had ever dared to chew – in Canadian art history – Otavnik looked around for help.
He went to an independent forensic scientist to rule on the authenticity of a painting the artist and his white business manager told the Heffel boys was a fake. And which they had then quickly and unceremoniously consigned to their “Great Canadian Trash” bin.
On Mar, 13. 2008, one of Canada’s top forensic document examiners and handwriting analysis experts, Brian Lindblom, found that the painting “Spirits 2b,” which had been publicly defamed by the Conspiracy Theorists, Gabor Vadas, and Norval Morrisseau, and dumped by the Heffel boys, as a forgery, in fact, had been signed with DNA certainty, by Norval Morrisseau, and that no one else could have.
So, it was Apple’s Steve Jobs, all over again. Jobs had been visceral and viral, in denying paternity to a child he had conceived out of wedlock. Then the proof, with DNA certainty of 94.41% arrived and he folded like a cheap suit. But not before screaming and holding out “that DNA wasn’t 100%.”
Jobs even fought scientists at first, in spite of the fact he very well knew, or ought to have known, that DNA is never 100%, and that, hell, it was his kid all along. After a two year holding action, Jobs finally “‘fessed up” and even named the Lisa computer after the kid he had wanted nothing to do with, until DNA certainty made it impossible to carry on with the fiction he had ferociously promoted for so long.
Like Lance… like…
Now also faced with DNA certainty, Vadas (and Morrisseau) backed off, big time, and blatantly refused to go before a judge.
They begged Otavnik to settle out of court. They paid him off with $11,000 to acquire two paintings they had claimed before – to the Heffel boys – were diabolical, worthless fakes. Of the kind which Donald Robinson swore in front of a judge were not worth a cent. Nothing… zip… nada…
In another surreal move, Vadas now even demanded Otavnik sign over the copyright to the paintings. Yep, that’s right; on paintings he called forgeries…
It gets worse.
He even made Otavnik sign a clause that promised that he would not sue again, if in future, heh, heh… the paintings turned out to be, ahem, authentic…
Foiled by Forensics Part 1
This was the first stunning rebuff in a lawsuit case, as to the reliability of the Conspiracy Theorists, as credible authenticators of what are authentic Morrisseaus and which are forgeries, if any?
What does all this prove, about the trustworthiness on any level, of Gabor Vadas, and that “Dumb Indian,” Morrisseau, who never seems to say anything at all himself, but is endlessly quoted and sourced in astonishing detail by his white business managers…?
I am not aware that Gabor Vadas ever apologized to Joe Otavnik for the damage he did to him and his business.
I am not aware that Heffel Auctions ever issued an apology for peremptorily dumping his genuine Morrisseaus from their auction listings and so tarnishing his paintings as “dumped as forgeries by Heffel.”