The best parts were the tidbits about the process of forging an old master painting. While the writing is never bad, it's bland. Lackluster prose really inhibits the narrative voice of Claire, the forger of the title, who never comes to life on the page. Her naïveté after having been burned once by a man, only to let it happen again is astonishing, yet we never understand why she seems to be so easy to dupe. On top of the her unexciting narrative tone, Shapiro includes an ongoing correspondence ...more
An essay by Alexander Nagel, a professor of Renaissance art at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, argues that “forgery” is a concept that barely existed in Western art before around 1500, when the art market was invented and a new cast of players who came to be known as “dealers,” “collectors,” “connoisseurs” — and forgers — was born. Before that moment a copy could stand in perfectly well for an earlier work of art, so long as it transmitted the same “essential content,” as Mr. Nagel puts it, and could fill the same religious or commemorative functions. When a great Byzantine icon was copied, the new version was felt to have the same relationship to its divine subject as the older one, and so could do the same cultural work. What would it mean to “forge” a picture, in a world where originals and copies could be interchanged?
The wealthy figured this out in a big way back in the 1980s, giving rise to ‘art stars’ valued in the millions. And with the increasing popularity and geographical scope of biennials and art fairs in the 1990s, rich people all over the world now have access to seas of multi-million dollar investments that can be rolled up and stored just about anywhere.
Forgeries again came into play at Turkey’s State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara, where a group of museum officials and criminals are believed to have teamed up to steal some 302 works from the institution between 2005 and 2009. The crime was discovered in 2012, when the museum realized that 46 pieces in the collection had been replaced by copies. Another 30 works also raised suspicion.
The following year, in 2013, an even more high-profile laundering case surfaced when a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting worth $8 million was found in a crate at Kennedy Airport on its way from London. The crate went through customs with a valuation of $100, though it contained Basquiat’s 1982 painting Hannibal (commodities valued under $200 aren’t required to be declared at customs.) The painting had been bought and shipped by Brazilian Banker Edemar cid Ferreira in an elaborate scheme to launder over $50 million that was illegally obtained when Ferreira’s bank, Banco Santos, went bankrupt. In 2004, Ferreira went $1 billion in debt after his financial empire, much of which was built on embezzled funds, collapsed. During his reign over Banco Santos, he had bought 12,000 pieces of art. In 2006, Ferreira was sentenced to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. But before his arrest, $30 million of his art collection was smuggled out of Brazil. The scheme was uncovered when Hannibal was found at JFK. According to court papers, the painting was originally bought for $1 million in 2004 by a Panamanian company called Broadening-Info Enterprises, which was later discovered to be owned by Ferreira’s wife, Márcia.
He uses what is called Raman spectroscopy, which can help detect historically inaccurate pigments. That’s what cut Beltracchi’s career short. He was sentenced to six years in a German prison. His wife, Helene, to four. But the chaos they wrought has not been undone. Now, galleries and auction houses who vouched for his forgeries have been sued by the collectors who bought them.
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.
The fundamental consideration in determining forgery is “intent to deceive.” The act of copying a painting or other work of art is in itself not forgery, nor is the creation of a work “in the style” of a recognized painter, composer, or writer or of a particular historical period. Forgery may be the act not of the creator himself but of the dealer who adds a fraudulent signature or in some way alters the appearance of a painting or manuscript. Restoration of a damaged painting or manuscript, however, is not considered forgery even if the restorer in his work creates a significant part of the total work. Misattributions may result either from honest errors in scholarship—as in the attribution of a work to a well-known artist when the work was in fact done by a painter in his workshop, a pupil, or a later follower—or from a deliberate fraud.
Federal investigators don't know exactly how much Pei-Shen Qian made on the scheme, but it was at least $65,000. He fled to China and was later indicted. In an interview with Bloomberg News three years ago, the forger explained he began painting in Shanghai, and moved to the U.S. in the 1980s. He insisted he never intended to pass his paintings off as anything other than imitations and found it incredible that anyone had taken the paintings seriously.
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
Nevertheless, a forgery may pretend to be no more than a copy of a genuine original. It then becomes necessary to examine the language and style in which it is written and to look for anachronisms or for statements that conflict with known authorities. This is the method of textual criticism brilliantly employed by Richard Bentley in his Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699), which proved that these letters, far from being written by Phalaris (a Sicilian tyrant of the 6th century bc), were in fact the work of a Greek sophist of the 2nd century ad.
In the end, maybe this guide was never intended for amoral businessmen in the first place (unless we’ve sorely misjudged our readership!) Maybe this it's more useful to the emerging artists who look for validation (read: dollar signs) in a competitive market. Maybe the artist’s secret to success is appealing to the corrupt and becoming an accomplice to white collar crime (but hopefully not). Are economic criminals the driving force of the art economy? Probably not, but what we do know for certain is that art isn’t only valuable as the evidence of creative genius. It is, to many, a vault.
This would all just be face-palm silliness on the Times’s part, a reflection of its editorial disconnect between the culture pages and the business staff, if the story didn’t also glide over the real point of what is going on here. The best protected transactions in the art market are those that pass through the auction houses because those firms do the KYC due diligence that squelch money laundering. Auction houses have compliance staff and are easily monitored by the law enforcement which doesn’t crack down on large private transactions that take place through lawyers or dealers. The Times admits this when they point out that Jho Low passed KYC diligence before it was revealed that he was involved in the 1MDB transactions. After it was revealed, he is no longer able to access art markets through the auction houses.
Jack Flam should know. He is one of the world's top experts in Robert Motherwell and was friends with the artist for years. Robert Motherwell was the youngest of a group of famous American painters that included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, who pioneered a new style of American art known as abstract expressionism. After Robert Motherwell's death, Jack Flam became president of the foundation dedicated to his work, and was assembling a catalogue of all of Motherwell's paintings - what's known as a catalogue raisonne.
Further complicating matters, following Man Ray's death, control of printing copyrights fell to his widow, Juliet Man Ray, and her brother, who approved production of a large number of prints that Man Ray himself had earlier rejected. While these reprints are of limited value, the originals, printed during Man Ray's lifetime, have skyrocketed in value, leading many forgers to alter the reprints, so that they appear to be original.
Vilas Likhite, a Los Angeles doctor, was said to have owned a multimillion-dollar art collection inherited from an Indian maharajah. His collected works included the names of Brancusi, Lichtenstein, Chagall, Casatt, and others. The pieces he collected were best described as "museum quality." At times, he could be persuaded to sell some of these works to trusted friends for exceptionally low prices. However, a recent sale of a Casatt proved to be his downfall when he sold it to an undercover police detective who specialized in art fraud. All of Likhite's carefully documented works, some presented in a three-ring binder, were fakes.
In the last decade, reported revenues from the Chinese auction market have expanded ninefold, now higher than those of its American counterpart. Records have been set for Chinese masters that compete with the West’s already inflated prices for Warhol and Picasso — if such records even end up holding, given some buyers who are refusing to pay because of doubts about authenticity.
Our current market, geared toward the ultra-wealthy, is helping few and hurting many. It stomps down all the emerging and midlevel dealers, artists, curators and even collectors who can’t play in the big-money game. It’s also hurting all the art lovers, current and future, who deserve work that’s conceived to address artistic issues, not to sell well to robber barons. If forgers can help burst our art bubble, blessings be upon them.
In the late 20th century, art fraud was propelled by a rise in the popularity of art as an investment. With more collectors and museums vying for an ever-smaller number of works by noted artists or from esteemed eras in the history of art, motivations for fraud were exponentially increased. At the same time, modern science made it possible to authenticate works of art to a greater degree than at any time in the past, though even those scientific tests led at times to ambiguous results.