Reviews of Con/Artist by Tony Tetro


The Life and Crimes of the World's Greatest Art Forger

by Tony Tetro, Giampiero Ambrosi

Con/Artist by Tony Tetro, Giampiero Ambrosi X
Con/Artist by Tony Tetro, Giampiero Ambrosi
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  • Published:
    Nov 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Book Summary

The world's most renowned art forger reveals the secrets behind his decades of painting like the masters - exposing an art world that is far more corrupt than we ever knew while providing an art history lesson wrapped in sex, drugs, and Caravaggio.

The art world is a much dirtier, nastier business than you might expect. Tony Tetro, one of the most renowned art forgers in history, will make you question every masterpiece you've ever seen in a museum, gallery, or private collection. Tetro's "Rembrandts," "Caravaggios," "Miros," and hundreds of other works now hang on walls around the globe. In 2019, it was revealed that Prince Charles received into his collection a Picasso, Dali, Monet, and Chagall, insuring them for over 200 million pounds, only to later discover that they're actually "Tetros." And the kicker? In Tony's words: "Even if some tycoon finds out his Rembrandt is a fake, what's he going to do, turn it in? Now his Rembrandt just became motel art. Better to keep quiet and pass it on to the next guy. It's the way things work for guys like me." The Prince Charles scandal is the subject of a forthcoming feature documentary with Academy Award nominee Kief Davidson and coauthor Giampiero Ambrosi, in cooperation with Tetro.

Throughout Tetro's career, his inimitable talent has been coupled with a reckless penchant for drugs, fast cars, and sleeping with other con artists. He was busted in 1989 and spent four years in court and one in prison. His voice—rough, wry, deeply authentic—is nothing like the high society he swanned around in, driving his Lamborghini or Ferrari, hobnobbing with aristocrats by day, and diving into debauchery when the lights went out. He's a former furniture store clerk who can walk around in Caravaggio's shoes, become Picasso or Monet, with an encyclopedic understanding of their paint, their canvases, their vision. For years, he hid it all in an unassuming California townhouse with a secret art room behind a full-length mirror. (Press #* on his phone and the mirror pops open.) Pairing up with coauthor Ambrosi, one of the investigative journalists who uncovered the 2019 scandal, Tetro unveils the art world in an epic, alluring, at times unbelievable, but all-true narrative.

(April 18, 1989)

I was lying on the couch falling asleep when I heard a rustling at the front door and someone saying, "Tony? Tony? You there?" I said, "Yeah," and the next thing I knew twenty-five cops burst into my condo. The first thing one of them said was, "A man just gave you eight thousand dollars in cash. I'm going to need that back right now." It was true, so I handed the money over immediately.

The cops began demolishing my place, slicing up the wallpaper, pulling up the carpets, emptying all the drawers. The whole time I sat there on my couch sweating bullets, staring up at my secret room, which was reflected in the mirror on the mantelpiece. The room was in an odd-shaped space behind the upstairs bathroom. If you pressed #* on the cordless phone, a full-length mirror would pop open and reveal my secret stash of special papers, pigments, collector stamps, light tables, vintage typewriters, certificates of authenticity, notebooks with signatures—everything a ...

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The book is an easy read, full of interesting facts about forgeries, all centered around a pretty regular guy. Tetro's story really affected me, particularly when he recounts getting busted. We usually want to see the criminal caught and brought to justice. It's harder when the criminal is a nonviolent man painting at home. Though I expected the downfall, I hadn't considered the collateral damage. I saw how quickly Tetro's friends and associates disappeared and how many clients had betrayed him along the way, refusing to pay the thousand they owed him. Con/Artist demystified the world of art forgery for me...continued

Full Review Members Only (930 words).

(Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin).

Media Reviews

The Spectator (UK)
Beneath the grit and the glamor is a fascinating tale of a diligent, self-taught artist with a good work ethic and a great natural talent...From start to finish Tetro's passion for art and his knack for drama carry the reader through.

The Times (UK)
Tetro emerges as a loveable rapscallion—part highly skilled conjurer, part practical joker—who points out what the sceptics have always tended to suspect: that the art market emperors are strutting their stuff in no clothes...Tetro's frankness is invigorating...His art appreciation, however rough and ready...can feel delightfully fresh.

Booklist (starred review)
[Tetro's] memoir, cowritten with investigative journalist Giampiero Ambrosi, is absolutely fascinating, full of the kind of evocative writing and precise detail that brings an autobiography to life. He might have been doing something illegal, but it's awfully hard not to like Tony Tetro...[H]e seems straightforward, open about his crimes, and just a bit proud of his success as a crook. A welcome addition to any true-crime shelf.

Library Journal (starred review)
The chapter on how his forged paintings ended up in Prince Charles's residence is priceless. With a companion documentary slated for release early next year, the entertaining book is a must read. Art and true crime lovers will likely devour this tale of Tetro's escapades.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Tetro, one of the most prolific art forgers of the 20th century, paints his own life story with flair in this cinematic memoir...Written in a colorful, conversational voice and blending memoir, art history, and true crime, Tetro's account takes readers on a turbulent, fast-paced, high-stakes roller-coaster ride. This is the art world's The Wolf of Wall Street.

Kirkus Reviews
A successful, prolific art forger tells his remarkable story…He has amusing things to say about people who have too much money and not enough sense…Tetro tells his rollicking story well, and the result is a unique narrative. An entertaining account that shines a light onto a shady world as well as a personal story of hubris and redemption.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Famous Forgeries of Han van Meegeren

van Meegeren's Christ and the Disciples at EmmausIn Con/Artist, Tony Tetro explains the value of provenance, meaning how a painting came to be in a seller's possession. Sometimes, the provenance of a forgery is what we remember. In 1945, Dutch police arrested Han van Meegeren for collaborating with Nazis by selling them art. During the trial, van Meegeren explained what really happened. The trial elevated his status from forger to folk hero.

Van Meegeren had studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, but his work never caught on. His teachers and art critics alike said that it was fine technically but lacked originality. And in a time when abstract art was all the rage, van Meegeren's paintings of forest creatures held little appeal. Initially, he responded to harsh ...

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