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AROUND TOWN

He Put L.A. on Road to Valet Parking

June 17, 1996|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Signing copies of his new book, "False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes," at Dutton's in Brentwood, he observed that forgers--who have been plying their craft since the time of the ancient Phoenicians--share two commonalities.

They always make "some ridiculous mistake," like the pretender who painted his "Degas" in oil, and they're rarely punished, because they can explain that they were just painting something in the style of the artist they've ripped off.

Hoving then told a story about a gent named Brigido Lara, who made bundles turning out classic pre-Columbian terra cotta figures of the Vera Cruz style (circa centuries 600-900).

Lara's works resided in museums and with collectors worldwide until a day in 1974 when he was apprehended with one of his works by Mexican police who jailed him on suspicion of trying to spirit an antiquity out of the country.

Whereupon Lara protested, "I'm not a smuggler! I'm a forger!"

The upshot: He was hired by Mexican cultural authorities to make replicas for sale in museum shops. He also became his own fake-buster, over the years identifying 3,500 of his instant classics.

Noted Hoving: "He forged an entire civilization that never existed. The real stuff is second-rate and kinda moldy."

One young woman waiting for Hoving to sign her book had forged an inscription, "with love, Thomas Hoving." He did a double take, then roared. A first, he said, "a classic."

* This weekly column chronicles the people and small moments that define life in Southern California. Reader suggestions are welcome.

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