Police: Aspen art gallery didn't do anything wrong

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenJuly 15, 2010
Aspen police say they have exonerated Royal Street Fine Arts in an investigation into an apparent art forgery racket that has two Colorado painters fuming over what they believe is an elaborate scam.

Royal Street Fine Arts

Over a year ago, local artist Tania Dibbs spotted what she says is a ripoff of her oil painting, “Valley Beyond,” at Royal Street Fine Arts, which has three locations in Aspen including one next door to Dibbs' gallery on the Aspen mall. Dibbs had sold the original “Valley Beyond,” for $10,000. The painting at Royal Street Fine Arts, which looks nearly identical to “Valley Beyond,” was signed by someone named Sean Lemon. Dibbs looked extensively for Lemon but said she was unable to locate him and believes the artist is fictitious.

Another artist, John Demott of Loveland, also believes a copy of his work, “Ahead of the Storm” was copied, with minor changes (the horses in the painting are different colors) and put up for sale at Royal Street Fine Arts.

“The customer who thinks he's buying an original piece of art is being fooled,” Demott told KCNC, the CBS news affiliate in Denver that aired a story on the matter in May.

CBS investigative journalist Brian Maass traced the apparent forgeries to a village in China, where he reports that millions of copies of original paintings are produced every year under fictitious names “to mask where they really came from.”

Aspen police issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon saying Royal Street Fine Arts is not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“The Aspen Police Department has conducted a thorough investigation into complaints of possible fraud and forgery involving art sales at Royal Street Gallery, and has concluded that allegations against the owners of the gallery are unfounded,” the statement reads. “The case is still currently open and active, while investigators intend to continue pursuing information related to the original complaint. The gallery and its owners are not suspect(s) in the continuing aspect of the investigation.”

Police began looking into the allegations in October 2009.

CBS reported that Peter Calamari, owner of Royal Street Fine Arts “repeatedly dodged” the TV station's attempt to interview him about the allegations. Calamari did, however, issue a statement that said “the accusations are false. ... We do not have artwork painted or reproduced in China. [Royal Street's art] is “outstanding, authentic and a good value for our clients.”

Dibbs, however, isn't buying it.

“In my opinion, [Royal Street Fine Arts customers] are being duped,” Dibbs told CBS.

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