Popular touring art show exposed as evident hoax

September 09, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The American tour of the Von Saloschin art collection began two years ago in San Francisco International Airport, when a man known as Bryn Lloyd Williams walked off an airplane with a collection of German art supposedly valued at $3.5 million -- stuffed into a suitcase.

His destination was a small community college in San Jose which was using an old cafeteria as its makeshift art gallery. Officials at Evergreen Valley Community College were ecstatic at what they considered an artistic coup.

But Dorothy Burkhart wasn't so sure. Then the art critic of the San Jose Mercury News, Ms. Burkhart said she was suspicious of the exhibit the moment Mr. Williams walked in the door.

"I immediately sensed there was something wrong," said Ms. Burkhart yesterday, noting that the supposedly valuable art was carried in a suitcase and Mr. Williams, the custodian bringing the art to the country for its two-year tour, had little or no security. Upon examination of the art, a local art expert agreed.

Nevertheless, the exhibit, formally known as the Von Saloschin/Hirth du Fresnes Collection of Expressionist Paintings and Drawings, spent the next two years touring colleges and universities in the United States.

The tour is a baffling story of suspicions ignored or, in other communities, unreported. As it traveled around the country, the collection packed galleries and community colleges with thousands of locals flocking to see the big European exhibit in their town.

The Von Saloschin's triumphant American visit ended abruptly this week, however, when officials at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., called in a group of Chicago art experts.

The experts pronounced the exhibit a hoax, and College of Lake County officials called off the exhibit.

College officials and a national association of community colleges now are trying to reach Mr. Williams in an attempt to lay to rest questions about the works' authenticity.

But the man who brought the works to the country two years ago has disappeared, as far as they can determine. He did not show up for a scheduled reception to kick off the Lake County show and has not returned telephone messages this week from the college or the Tribune.

Mr. Williams, who is based in Dublin, was out of the country, according to a receptionist there.

The College of Lake County is the first to cancel the show amid doubts about its authenticity.

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