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An Oakland School Upped Spending After A $2.8m Donation Of Chinese Paintings. Then Came The Appraisal

When the small Oakland private school received the donation of four Chinese paintings, valued at $2.8 million, administrators were gobsmacked.

After relying on bake sales to stay fiscally afloat for the past two decades, the Pacific Boychoir Academy and its elite after-school music program were sitting on a relative fortune.

The New York donor, an art collector who inherited the pieces, had been a boys choir participant in his youth and had wanted to help such a program. Appraisers valued one of the pieces, an ink and color on paper of a waterfall by 20th century Chinese artist Li Keran, at $2 million alone, and the other three combined at just over $800,000.

The possibilities for the school were “super exciting,” said admissions director Janelle Geistlinger. “We took this asset and were able to lean into some security for the first time as a community.”

The paintings arrived about a year ago, but unable to immediately sell them because of IRS rules, school officials borrowed $400,000 against the imminent windfall to boost staff and build their program. An admissions director was added. So was a web designer, and a Latin teacher.

Then came the shocking news. In February, as school officials readied to sell, they took the art to Bonhams auction house in San Francisco, where Asian art experts evaluated the paintings.

The paintings were fake. Copies. Reproductions of original works by Li Keran, Fu Baoshi, Zhang Daqian and Shi Tao.