MANHATTAN (CN) – A Canadian art authenticator claims The New Yorker magazine defamed him in a long investigative article: “The Mark of a Masterpiece: The man who keeps finding famous fingerprints on uncelebrated works of art.”
Peter Paul Biro calls the article a “false and defamatory screed … written and published with malice and an indifference to the standards of responsible journalism.”
Biro, the subject of the article in the July 5, 2010 issue, demands $2 million from Condé Nast and the article’s author, David Grann, whom he identifies as a New Yorker staff writer.
David Remnick, editor for The New Yorker, scoffed at the allegations.
“David Grann’s reporting on this story and everything else he does is painstaking in both its attention to the facts and tone,” Remnick said in a statement. “We stand with David Grann and behind the story and believe the suit has no merit.”
Biro also sued Dan’s Papers, Manhattan Media and Dan Rattiner, who he says “wrote and published an article in response to the [New Yorker] article, repeated many of the same defamatory statements as are contained therein, and also added some of their own.”
Biro, of Montreal, claims to have pioneered a method of authenticating paintings through fingerprint analysis. “He is by profession a forensic scientist, specializing in the use of fingerprint technology to assist in the resolution of issues of authenticity in works of art,” Biro says in his 31-page federal complaint. “He trained and practiced as a conservator, but some years ago began to study artists’ fingerprints, and in particular on [sic] a painting which was possibly by J.M.W. Turner.
“Plaintiff discovered a fingerprint on the painting, and this led him to question whether traditional methods for attribution of works of art could be supplemented by more scientific means. By comparing the fingerprint found in the painting to another he found in a known Turner work, he provided strong evidence that the painting was an authentic Turner. The finding was corroborated by established fingerprint experts at the time.
“Since then plaintiff has continued to evolve his methodology and documented fingerprints from the works of other noted artists. As a leading authority in this emerging field, plaintiff’s services have been retained in a number of challenging authentication studies for collections and private clients worldwide,” the complaint states.
Biro says Grann’s 16,000-word article, “purports to be an in-depth study of the science of forensic examination of art works, and of the use of fingerprint technology to advance that science.” But, Biro says, “It is nothing of the sort, but rather a false and defamatory screed against plaintiff, written and published with malice and an indifference to the standards of responsible journalism.
“The article relies to a significant extent on anonymous sources, many of whom are no longer alive, and repeats defamatory statements made by those sources.
“Through selective omission, innuendo and malicious sarcasm, the article paints a portrait of plaintiff which has no bases in reality, and which has been highly damaging to his reputation.
“The intent of the article is apparent from the very subtitle, which implies that plaintiff finds fingerprints where they do not exist, and which represents an editorial attempt to prejudice the reader in advance of the narrative which follows.”
Biro adds: “Defendant Grann obtained plaintiff’s consent to a series of interviews, by misleading him about defendant Grann’s true intentions in writing the article, and he distorted the substance of those interviews to serve a predetermind agenda.”
Biro claims that Grann’s article “ignores the many highly celebrated and iconic masterpieces of art which plaintiff has been privileged to work with, including Edvard Münch’s ‘Scream’, works by Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet’s ‘Impression, soleil levant‘, and many works by J.M.W. Turner. …
“Furthermore, the article ignores the many works of art which plaintiff was asked to study and evaluate, but which he rejected because in his professional opinion the forensic information on them was insufficient or illegible.”
Biro claims that Grann implied that Biro fabricated evidence to pass off bogus paintings as authentic, knowingly sold fake art, stole artworks from clients and planned a “scheme to falsely authenticate art works so as to create ‘staggering profits.'”
Biro’s lengthy complaint contains many excerpts from the article, which he rebuts point by point.
He claims that Grann’s “choice of language makes plaintiff appear to be sinister, and the physical description is pointlessly but intentionally demeaning.”
The 57-page filing includes the allegedly defamatory articles from The New Yorker and Dan’s Papers.
Biro is represented by Richard Altman.