"Maybe It's The Water"

David Gersh

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It is sometimes difficult to determine that a painting is a forgery. But who knew it was more difficult in South Korea. Maybe it’s the water.

The painting, "Portrait of a Beautiful Woman" by one of South Korea's most renowned artists, Chun Kyung Ja, was the focus of a bizarre and decades-long dispute over its authenticity. 

Before her death, Chun repeatedly insisted that the 1971 portrait owned by the country's National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) was a fake. "Parents can recognize their children. That is not my painting." Indeed, a forger announced in 1999 that he was the artist (although he undermined his credibility by retracting the statement, then retracting his retraction, and finally asserting that the painting was real). 

In April 2016, a prosecutorial investigation was launched after one of Chun's daughters filed a complaint. On September 19, 2016, a team from French firm Lumiere Technology, using a high-tech photographic process, compared the “Portrait” to nine other portraits of women by Chun (real ones) produced during a similar time period of between 1977 and 1985. Lumiere concluded that it was probable that the painting was a forgery.

Separately, the prosecutors commissioned Choi Kwang-jin, an art critic and former authenticator who is often dubbed by media as South Korea’s only Chun Kyung-ja specialist, to study the painting for a total of four hours. 
Choi finally saw the original painting for the first time in September 2016. “It was like being momentarily confused by a person who reminded me of someone I knew,” he recalled the first moment of seeing the painting. “But the more we talked, I realized this was a different person. You can tell a powerful, good actor by his or her eyes,” he told Korea Exposé. “This painting was not a good actor. It only imitated the shell.” 
Notwithstanding these evaluations, prosecutors found the painting to be authentic, citing the opinion of other local art experts. It did not mention Choi’s conclusion.

Oddly, the mirror image of the Chun case took place in South Korea at about the same time. Earlier, the Seoul police had launched an investigation into the suspected forgery of works by Lee Ufan, one of the most South Korea’s most distinguished artists. A South Korean art dealer named Hyeon confessed to having four of the paintings forged. 

But when Ufan examined the works for himself, the artist maintained that the four works were real. It certainly flummoxed the police. I guess a parent can recognize his children. Or the forger must have been really, really good.

David Gersh spent 36 years in the practice of corporate and securities law, negotiating, structuring and executing complex corporate transactions. He is a retired partner of Paul Hastings, one of the renowned international law flrms.

He participated on behalf of Frank Sinatra in the sale of Warner Bros. Studios to Kinney National Corporation to create what is now Time Warner. And he was lead counsel to the British company, TVS Entertainment, in its acquisition of MTM Entertainment, for whom he acted as outside general counsel for more than flve years until its sale to the Family Channel.

Mr. Gersh is a past member of the Executive Committee of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of California. He chaired the committee that drafted the Revised California Limited Partnership Act. He is Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and past President of the Los Angeles Hillel Council. In addition, he is Vice-Chairman of the Board of United WestLabs, a laboratory outreach provider.

Mr. Gersh received his BS degree, with honors, and his MBA from UCLA. He was awarded his JD, cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. 

He is a published poet and award winning author of four mystery books. Two of which, Art Is Dead and Going, Going, Gone, were published by Durban House Publishing. Desperate Shop Girls, his new comic mystery, was published by Prides Crossing Press. Art Attack, the third book in his art world series, was published in May 2016. He has completed his fifth book, a Civil War historical fiction, The Whisper of a Distant God.

He is an avid art collector.