Instagram, fake collector profiles unmasked. They had also gulled curators

The fake profiles of four fake collectors who posed as influencers and had also gulled critics were exposed. One of them had even been interviewed for a famous fair.

It has the unbelievable about the story reported yesterday by Il Sole 24 Ore: four fake collectors, who acted on Instagram presenting themselves as wealthy fans in the flesh, were in fact unmasked thanks to the intuition of an art dealer, Federico Vavassori, owner of the gallery of the same name in Milan. The profiles are those of Carlo Alberto Ferri (who presented himself as a wealthy heiress from Bergamo), Pier Paolo Lonati (an alleged businessman from Brescia with activities in Zurich), Beatrice Rinaldi (a fake fashion manager) and Raffaele Sartori (who presented himself as a winemaker from Verona).

According to the Sole 24 Ore’s reconstruction, Vavassori noticed a work by an artist he represented on Pier Paolo Lonati’s Instagram profile and discovered, upon verification of the case, that it was a fake. “The ambiguous reaction of the owner of that account at the moment we informed him of the falsity of the work, also requesting precise clarifications on the provenance,” Vavassori told the Milanese newspaper, “generated a chain of suspicions that led us to verify the relations maintained by this individual with several other similar Instagram profiles. Thus, a bewildering network of fictitious accounts emerged that, through frequent exchanges of likes, tags and comments, aimed to validate each other’s existence by showing interests and activities compatible with real profiles of contemporary art collectors. Through private chats with some of these profiles, which we simultaneously initiated in order to gather more information, we were able to detect numerous inconsistencies and an obvious correlation between the different accounts. Crucial was the rapid exchange of information with a number of our colleagues and collectors, many of whom had had previous contact with these fictitious identities, always initiated on Instagram and sometimes continued by sharing sensitive information with these individuals via email, without ever reaching physical encounters.”

The four collectors acted on Instagram with posts in which they presented alleged works from their collections: big names, mid-career artists, and young emerging Italians, confusing themselves with real collectors and gallerists, and interacting with the latter and with curators. To make the profiles more credible, the unknowns behind the fake collectors also posted scenes from real life, with the intention of giving the four a marked identity: the Sun explains that Rinaldi was constantly posting pictures of Paris, Sartori was presented as a food enthusiast, and for Ferri a story of lockdown spent at his grandmother’s house in Sicily was constructed. And there was no shortage of interactions between them: Lonati, for example, in one post thanked Beatrice Rinaldi for giving him a painting by Rita Ackermann.

The confession finally came from Ferri himself, who wrote in a private message to Vavassori: “Good morning Federico, with this message we want to clarify to you definitively what happened. The profiles you found were created by a group of guys with the purpose of making cultural entertainment and nothing more. There are no secondary purposes other than to make most people enjoy the idea of art. After your report we feel obliged to offer an apology if in any way the profiles may have created any problems whatsoever. In any case, we want to make it clear that the images used are simply graphic reworkings. In order not to create any further problems, we have decided to proceed with the removal of the images.” In short, was this harmless cultural entertainment? Not at all: the crimes that according to the Sun are looming are quite serious. Lawyers Virginia Montani Tesei and Francesco Francia assume the crimes of substitution of person, violation of moral copyright, and theft of images. Not to mention that such an operation (obviously conducted on a different scale, and not with four Instagram profiles) would have the potential to pollute the market, even if it was foiled before it could do major damage, and even if it was virtually impossible for it to hold for long.

In the meantime, however, there are those who fell for the plot hatched by the “group of guys” who enjoyed inventing the fake collectibles. In October 2020, Carlo Alberto Ferri had even managed to be interviewed as part of a project for ArtVerona, one of Italy’s most important art fairs (today the page with the interview,collected by Federico Montagna for the Critical collecting project curated by Alberto Grulli, which every year tells the fair’s audience the stories of collectors, is no longer reachable), and last October the same Ferri and Raffaele Sartori had obtained two interviews for the blog of Rea! Art Fair (the latter, however, still online, with the addition of a disclaimer informing of the false identity of the two collectors).

The art world is not entirely new to such episodes: in 2018, for example, the case of “Anna Delvey” had broken out in the United States, who presented herself as a wealthy heiress about to open an art foundation (to make it believable, she had even forged bank documents to obtain large loans), and managed to live in luxury for three years, promising payments that debtors would never collect. She was later unmasked, although in this case it was a flesh-and-blood woman who presented herself under a false name (her case later ended up in court). The affair of the four fake collectors, on the other hand, is different: a network was set up in this case that acted only in the virtual world, and denied itself every time the collectors were asked for a live appointment (this is what the curators who came into contact with the fake collectors are now telling on social media: moreover, to make their excuses credible, the characters in question posted fake photos of the places where they claimed to be).

And now everyone is asking two questions. The first: what was the purpose of all this? Some speculate that since these collectors also found themselves promoting names of young emerging artists, the purpose was precisely to push these names. The second: Is there still a possibility that fake collectors are prowling social media? It is not to be ruled out.

Instagram, fake collector profiles unmasked. They had also gulled curators
Instagram, fake collector profiles unmasked. They had also gulled curators

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