Law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad say “Hannibal” is just one of thousands of valuable artworks being used by criminals to hide illicit profits and illegally transfer assets around the globe. As other traditional money-laundering techniques have come under closer scrutiny, smugglers, drug traffickers, arms dealers and the like have increasingly turned to the famously opaque art market, officials say.
Interpol also tracks art smuggling. City police forces may have units that investigate cases of art fraud on the local level. But the first, and in many cases only, line of defense against art fraud is the dealers who offer the works for sale and the museums and collectors who must make every effort to determine the authenticity and legality of the works before purchase.
The anonymity of buyers is also a huge advantage for criminals. Who hasn’t seen the images of an art auction for a famous painting at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, where brokers are on the phone with mysterious clients? Art market operators generally refuse to disclose the identities of their clients under the guise of “protecting the integrity of the transactions.”
Fraudulent misrepresentations are one thing, but do sellers who proudly “stand behind the works they sell” really intend to be strictly liable (i.e., without fault) for any error or omission in the provenance or exhibition history? Do sellers undertake to do independent investigations of the provenance, or do they just pass along the same information they received when the work was acquired? In practice, more sophisticated art market participants, such as the major auction houses, include disclaimers (in fine print) in their terms and conditions of sale, but when smaller galleries and dealers sell art they rarely incorporate such protections against liability for faulty or inaccurate information.
The Art Loss Register (ALR), founded in 1991, grew out of the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR: founded 1969), a not-for-profit organization that initiated and maintained (until 1997) an international database of stolen works of art, antiques, and collectables. After 1998 ALR assumed maintenance, although IFAR retains ownership, and the two organizations work closely together.
The commonest motivation for fraudulence is monetary gain. Fraudulence is most likely to occur when the demand for a certain kind of work coincides with scarcity and thus raises the market prices. Unprincipled dealers have encouraged technically skilled artists to create forgeries, occasionally guiding them to supply the precise demands of collectors or museums. This is by no means a modern phenomenon: in the 1st and 2nd centuries ad, sculptors working in Rome made replicas of Grecian works to satisfy the demands for the greatly admired Grecian sculpture of the preceding five centuries. These copies or adaptations apparently were not offered as contemporary work but as booty from Greece at the extraordinarily high prices paid for such works in imperial Rome. Similar circumstances may account for the “discovery” of a manuscript or autograph by a dead author or composer, although many such finds are quite legitimate and have been authenticated.
Archaeologists ... don't care who owned an object—they are more interested in the context of an object within the community of its (mostly original) users. ... [W]e are interested in why a Roman coin turned up in a shipwreck 400 years after it was made; while art historians don't really care, since they can generally figure out what mint a coin came from by the information stamped on its surface. "It's a Roman coin, what else do we need to know?" says an art historian; "The shipping trade in the Mediterranean region during late Roman times" says an archaeologist. ... [P]rovenance for an art historian is important to establish ownership, but provenience is interesting to an archaeologist to establish meaning.
I'll make a confession right off the bat: I didn't give The Art Forger 4 stars because I was blown away by the prose, scene, setting, or characterization. Had those been up to snuff I'd have given it an easy 5. There are some flat characters, relies somewhat on stereo typical thinking about artists and their studios, it sports some letters written by someone else in stand alone chapters which jar a bit with the first person view point (one would assume our heroine would have no knowledge of thes ...more
The Chinese art market, where regulation is lax, is thought to be particularly prone to money laundering. "The [Chinese] art market has become more and more abnormal," Wang Shouzhi, dean of the Cheung Kong School of Art and Design at Shantou University, told the South China Morning Post in April. "It is saturated with business tricks, fake works and fake prices. … It has become a tool for corruption and money laundering."
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the issues surrounding works of art that were stolen, looted, displaced, or illegally exchanged during the Nazi era in Europe (1933-1945). After World War II, Allied Forces recovered thousands of artworks and returned them to the countries from which they were taken for restitution to the owners or their heirs. Nevertheless, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Many of these were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
John Drewe was able to pass off as genuine paintings, a large number of forgeries that would have easily been recognised as such by scientific examination. He established an impressive (but false) provenance and because of this galleries and dealers accepted the paintings as genuine. He created this false provenance by forging letters and other documents, including false entries in earlier exhibition catalogues.
French artist Orlan sued American pop star Lady Gaga for forgery after the release of the 2011 hit video “Born This Way,” but ultimately lost her case. Orlan pointed out similarities to her piece Bumpload (1989), in which she added prosthetic ridges to her face, and Woman With Head (1996), which featured a decapitated head on a table. After losing her $31.7 million lawsuit, Orlan was ordered to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000)
Despite having the means to own the original, one American multimillionaire has opted to hang a forged Renoir in his home while the real thing hangs prominently at a major museum. The man in question is not President Donald Trump, who recently made headlines with his claim of owning Renoir’s 1881 Two Sisters (On the Terrace), despite the painting being part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection, but Henry Bloch, the Kansas City–based cofounder of tax preparation firm H&R Block.
A tale of literary forgery that came to light in the early 21st century was that of the celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who confessed in her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2008), that while down on her luck in the 1990s she had forged and sold to collectors hundreds of letters by various notable figures—Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Lillian Hellman among them.
One of the more-complicated examples is that of the Getty kouros, an allegedly 6th-century-bce male sculpted figure owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles that has long been suspected of being a modern forgery. The Getty paid a very high price for what it believed may have been the last remaining such figure on the art market only to find that the sculpture had stylistic irregularities that suggested that it could not be authentic. At the same time, scientific tests have not demonstrated that it is of modern origin, and some scholars have argued that stylistic anomalies do not prove that it is a fake. The Getty Villa exhibited the work in its galleries with a label that read: “about 530 bc or modern forgery.” However, the kouros was removed from view when the museum completed a yearlong renovation in 2018, with the director stating that the sculpture was fake.