Journalist, historian and author Ian Dougherty gained the trust of convicted art forger Karl Sim (aka Goldie) spending time interviewing him and going through his files in his caravan hideaway at Hatfields Beach.
The information he uncovered is the subject of his recently published book, A Good Joke: The Life and Crimes of Notorious New Zealand Art Forger Karl Sim.
Sim was notorious for forging the works of Charles Goldie, Petrus van der Velden and Rita Angus, for which he was convicted in the mid-1980s. However, Dougherty’s book, published in June, reveals that Sim was still actively involved in forgery after his conviction and subsequent move to Hatfields Beach, right up until shortly before his death in 2013, just shy of his 90th birthday.
“While presenting a public facade of artist, fundraiser and media and service club darling, following his trial and relocation to the Hibiscus Coast, Sim and his associates continued to launch forgeries into the art market in New Zealand, Australia and the UK,” Dougherty says.
Sim was well known on the Coast, where he lived for 25 years; Good as Goldie, an exhibition of his early, (legitimate) work and portraits of local people was shown at Estuary Arts Centre in 2010. It was thought his forging days were behind him, and he appeared to live a modest life, claiming he made his living honestly from portraiture.
In 2010, after giving a talk at Estuary Arts, Sim donated a copy of one of Charles Goldie’s paintings of Ina Te Papatahi to the centre’s fundraising raffle. Dougherty says the copy was so good, doubts were later raised about who painted it. One of Sim’s friends, celebrity cook and keen artist Dame Alison Holst of Orewa won that painting. The book says that Dame Alison and her husband Peter became friends with Sim through his appearances at local service club meetings, turning one of his visits to their home into a DVD called Morning Tea with Goldie.
No-one apart from close associates knew about the post-conviction forgeries until now. Dougherty says that Sim shared this information on the condition that nothing was published until after his death so he could not face further civil or criminal charges. Dougherty also interviewed many others for his book, including family members, accomplices, police, art dealers and collectors.
The book confirms that Sim was behind the ‘Great Gauguin Hoax’, in which works of art purported to be by Paul Gauguin appeared in New Zealand in 1998. Among the Gauguin fakes were a carved wooden pipe and pipe holder in the shape of a foot – Sim signed the foot ‘P Gauguin, 99’ and the pipe ‘P.G’. In fact, the book reveals, he bought the items for a few dollars at a Waiwera garage sale.
Sim also forged the works of dozens of other artists following his conviction, including Frances Hodgkins, Evelyn Page, Maud Burge and Colin McCahon.
A Good Joke reveals that the forgeries not only continued to go under the hammer at leading auction houses in New Zealand, but were also put up for auction by in Australia and the United Kingdom, including at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London.
It points out that following his conviction, Sim largely restricted himself to providing the artwork, provenance and ‘authenticity’, while various associates dealt directly with the art dealers and art houses.
Dougherty says all the forgeries were made in the Hatfields Beach caravan, located in a secluded site in the bush which successive owners provided rent-free. He says a lot of the proceeds were frittered away, including feeding Sim’s addictions to alcohol and gambling.
“Remember too that people who sold his forgeries on his behalf got half the proceeds, and some of the people he dealt with in his later years pocketed all of the proceeds and he never saw a cent. He was hardly going to complain to the police,” Dougherty says.
Sim was seen by many as a lovable rogue, who forged artworks, not for the money, but to show up what he considered the pretentious art world. However, in the book, Dougherty says Sim was using this to justify his actions and in fact he was “an incorrigible con artist who perverted his own considerable artistic talents”.
WIN this book
A Good Joke: The Life and Crimes of Notorious New Zealand Art Forger Karl Sim (RRP $45) is available from bookshops, and directly from the publisher – email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hibiscus Matters has one copy to give away. To be in to win, like Hibiscus Matters’ Facebook page and message us with your details. Alternatively, write your name, address and daytime phone number on the back of an envelope and post to A Good Joke, Hibiscus Matters, 21 Florence Ave, Orewa 0931. Entries close August 23.