But to dealers and their clients, secrecy is a crucial element of the art market’s mystique and practice. The Art Dealers Association of America dismissed the idea that using art to launder money was even a problem. “The issue is not an industrywide problem and really does not pertain to us,” said Lily Mitchem Pearsall, the association’s spokeswoman.
Forgery most often occurs with works of painting, sculpture, decorative art, and literature; less often with music. Plagiarism is more difficult to prove as fraud, since the possibility of coincidence must be weighed against evidence of stealing. Piracy is more often a business than an artistic fraud; it frequently occurs in the publication of editions of foreign books in countries that have no copyright agreement with the nation in which the work was copyrighted. A stage production, the reproduction of a painting, the performance of a musical composition, and analogous practices of other kinds of works without authorization and royalty payments also fall into this category.
The Art Business should examine the client’s background and purpose behind the contemplated transaction. For example, are the artworks being sold by the client consistent with what is known about the client’s collection? Is the level at which the client is selling or buying consistent with their past transactions and what is known about their professional activities and personal wealth? If not, the Art Business may want to ask the client for further information.
While the US art market remains relatively unregulated, organizations across the globe are taking steps to hold dealers accountable for reporting illegal activity. In February of 2013, the European Commission passed ordinances that require European galleries to report sales above 7,500 euros paid in cash, as well as file suspicious-transaction reports. And in the beginning of this year, a forum was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which economist Nouriel Roubini, among others, spoke on the art market’s susceptibility to laundering and other economic crimes like tax avoidance and evasion. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions," said Roubini according to Swiss Info.
At $8.3 million, it was the most expensive painting that the De Soles — the chairman of Tom Ford International and his socialite wife — had ever purchased, but they were getting what one source calls “a pretty sweet deal.” Weeks before the sale closed, a work by Rothko sold for $17,368,000 at Sotheby’s. Knoedler drew up a warranty of “authenticity and good value,” and the De Soles proudly hung Rothko’s “Untitled 1956” inside their luxurious Hilton Head, SC, home.
Also the documents supposedly supporting the authenticity of the art were forged. According to the art fraud detective, the fraudulent art pieces looked like they had been purchased in a dollar store because they were so bad. When the police searched his one-room condo, some of the works still were wet with paint. At the time of his arrest, another buyer filed a complaint that the piece she purchased from him was a forgery (Moore, 2004).
Knoedler’s fantastic tale of fraud begins in the early 1990s on the streets of Manhattan. That’s where a former waiter from Spain, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, came upon a Chinese artist peddling canvases on the sidewalk. Bergantiños approached the man, Pei-Shen Qian, and said that he had friends who wanted works by esteemed artists but could not afford the real things. Could Pei-Shen duplicate paintings for them? Bergantiños reportedly offered $500 per copy.
Copies, replicas, reproductions and pastiches are often legitimate works, and the distinction between a legitimate reproduction and deliberate forgery is blurred. For example, Guy Hain used original molds to reproduce several of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. However, when Hain then signed the reproductions with the name of Rodin's original foundry, the works became deliberate forgeries.
Open a foreign bank account in a tax haven like Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. Banks in these countries are not required by law to hand over information about your account to anyone without your consent. If you open what's called a “numbered account” in a private Swiss bank like Union Bank of Switzerland or Credit Suisse Group, a number or code name will be associated with the account, rather than your name. To open a numbered account, you will most likely need to travel to Switzerland to do it, though if this is impossible, there are firms that help people set up off-shore bank accounts that can help you. You will most likely need to make an initial deposit of at least $100,000 to open the account, which will cost roughly $300 a year to maintain.
Contact an art advisor to help you find a buyer for your work or see if an auction house like Sotheby’s or Christie’s wants to auction it for you. If they help you sell your collection, they will make money, so it’s in their best interest not to ask any questions. Make an appointment with an auction house to appraise the pieces in your collection. You’ll sign a contract that says you are allowing the auctioneers to sell your collection on consignment, which means if it sells you get paid, and if it doesn’t you get the art returned to you. It will also tell you what sort of fees you will be charged - like insurance, shipping, and the auction house’s cut. You’ll ship the work to the auction house, wait for your collection to be sold, and make it rain.
A common narrative used by art scammers is to say their wife has been looking at your work and really enjoys it. Or, they have a new home and are looking for pieces to decorate it. At first glance, it may seem like a plausible story, but something about it seems abrupt or stunted. If they don’t use your name or any details about the works they are looking at, it is probably not legitimate.
A peculiar case was that of the artist Han van Meegeren who became famous by creating "the finest Vermeer ever" and exposing that feat eight years later in 1945. His own work became valuable as well, which in turn attracted other forgers. One of these forgers was his son Jacques van Meegeren who was in the unique position to write certificates stating that a particular piece of art that he was offering "was created by his father, Han van Meegeren".
Technical analysis, an objective approach, rests on an arsenal of equipment and tests. The fundamental principle is the comparison of a suspected work with a genuine work of the same artist or period. The suspected piece must show the same pigments or materials used and comparable age deterioration. Inconsistencies automatically cause the piece to be suspect. Oil paintings dry out and develop a crackle, bronzes oxidize, and ancient glass buried in the ground develops iridescent layers. The microscope is the most useful basic tool: a close examination of the physical condition often will show if the aging is genuine or has been artificially induced. The type of tools used by the artist can be detected from an examination of their telltale traces.
One may logically question the real meaning of the difference between a genuine and a spurious work of art when in many cases it requires such expert study to detect the difference between the two. Or to phrase it another way, what is the difference in value of a work of art that has been on view in a museum for 40 years, after it has been proved to be false? This is a somewhat philosophical point in that the object itself has not changed, only our opinion of it. Its monetary value has been reduced from that of a rare, expensive, original piece to that of an attractive but spurious imitation. Its aesthetic quality has become a real danger, as it is a perversion of the truth. The forgery presents a false understanding of the work of an artist or an ancient culture, one which has been perverted in its modern translation. To appreciate the work of ancient artists their work must be studied alone and not be diverted by forgeries, or one will be inexorably misguided.
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According to former art consultant Beth Fiore, people don’t normally buy art with cash in the US; “Cash payments for art happen in Russia [and the] Middle East” more often. So if you’re keeping your fortune under your mattress and don’t live in either of those places, you’ll need to get your money into a bank account without alerting the authorities. One way to do that is by smurfing. Despite the mental image of a blue cartoon character riding a surfboard that you may have conjured, smurfing means depositing money into a bank account or several bank accounts by breaking it up in to many small amounts that are deposited at different times, by different people. US banks must report any deposits over $10,000 to the IRS, so in order to stay sneaky, you’ll need to make a series of deposits that are less than that amount. You can hire “smurfs” to help you, who are often ordinary people willing to make an extra buck by opening up a joint bank account in their name, that you or your company has access to, and depositing money into it every day.
Jack Flam took his information to the FBI's Art Crimes unit, which launched an investigation. In 2013, Glafira Rosales confessed to playing a key role in the multimillion dollar fraud. She is now awaiting sentencing, and told the FBI the forgeries were the handiwork of this man: Pei-Shen Qian, an artist who lived in Queens and painted the works in his garage.
There are many ways to launder money, from the simple to the very complex. One of the most common techniques is to use a legitimate, cash-based business owned by a criminal organization. For example, if the organization owns a restaurant, it might inflate the daily cash receipts to funnel illegal cash through the restaurant and into the restaurant's bank account. After that, the funds can be withdrawn as needed. These types of businesses are often referred to as "fronts."
At the state level, art forgery may constitute a species of fraud, material misrepresentation, or breach of contract. The Uniform Commercial Code provides contractually-based relief to duped buyers based on warranties of authenticity. The predominant civil theory to address art forgery remains civil fraud. When substantiating a civil fraud claim, the plaintiff is generally required to prove that the defendant falsely represented a material fact, that this representation was made with intent to deceive, that the plaintiff reasonably relied on the representation, and the representation resulted in damages to the plaintiff.
Price fluidity is one of the key advantages of using artwork for money laundering. Coupled with a lack of a regulatory body authorized to oversee the value of art, pricing art is effectively a free-for-all. For example, after 9/11, Americans yearned for nostalgia, including Norman Rockwell paintings. Some of his folksy paintings tripled in value — from $15 million in 2006 to $45 million seven years later.
Where the research is proceeding backwards, to discover the previous provenance of a painting whose current ownership and location is known, it is important to record the physical details of the painting – style, subject, signature, materials, dimensions, frame, etc. The titles of paintings and the attribution to a particular artist may change over time. The size of the work and its description can be used to identify earlier references to the painting. The back of a painting can contain significant provenance information. There may be exhibition marks, dealer stamps, gallery labels and other indications of previous ownership. There may also be shipping labels. In the BBC TV programme Fake or Fortune? the provenance of the painting Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil was investigated using a gallery sticker and shipping label on the back. Early provenance can sometimes be indicated by a cartellino (a representation of an inscribed label) added to the front of a painting. However, these can be forged, or can fade or be painted over.
American art forger Ken Perenyi published a memoir in 2012 in which he detailed decades of his activities creating thousands of authentic-looking replicas of masters such as James Buttersworth, Martin Johnson Heade, and Charles Bird King, and selling the forgeries to famous auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's and wealthy private collectors.
We’ll likely never know the provenance of the president’s purported Renoir, but Bloch’s is an example of the seldom-spoken yet widespread practice among institutions to forge famous pieces for collectors who’ve either donated or loaned the original works. In 2010, Henry and late wife Marion Bloch promised the Nelson-Atkins Museum their two-decade-old collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. In 2015, two years before the Bloch Collection was slated to debut, the museum began duplicating the works, some in-house, some with external help.
Glafira Rosales, an obscure Long Island art dealer, her boyfriend, and his brother enlisted Pei-Shen Qian, a Chinese artist in Queens, to paint Abstract Expressionist canvases in the style of such masters as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and others. The venerable Knoedler gallery, which closed in 2011 as the forgeries came to light, still claims they believed Rosales’s story that the works were part of an undocumented collection sold directly by the artists to an anonymous “Mr. X.”
The notion of intellectual property—the idea that artists’ works belong to them—dates at least to medieval Europe, though history records examples of the concept as early as ancient Greece. It had taken hold sufficiently during the Renaissance for Michelangelo to take umbrage when his work was misattributed. It was reported that when he discovered that another artist was receiving credit for sculpting the famous Pietà (now in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), Michelangelo returned with his chisel and added his signature across the centre of the sculpture, on the prominent sash across Mary’s upper body (in Italian): “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.”