The problem isn’t their argument that seller’s should reveal themselves. It’s the slapdash evidence and flawed logic they use. The story’s biggest problem begins with the lede where it is argued that real estate sellers are transparent. Several graphs deeper in the story it is revealed that real estate transactions that are on a par with major art transactions are, in fact, not transparent. How do we know that? Because the Times tells us about a pilot program that requires transparency. Here’s the opening graph:
On the night of St Patrick's Day in 1990 when the attention of Boston was focused elsewhere, thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with art valued at $500 million, including three Rembrandts, one of only 34 known paintings by Vermeer, and works by Manet and Degas. Because the eccentric Isabella insisted in her will that nothing be changed in the museum (nothing!), the empty frames remain on the walls as a sad reminder of what has been lost.
Noah Charney is a professor and an international author of fiction and non‐fiction, specializing in the fields of art history and art crime. He is the founder and president of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a non‐profit research group on issues in art crime. His work in the field of art crime has been praised in such international forums as the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, BBC Radio, National Public Radio, El Pais, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Playboy, Elle and Tatler among many others. He has appeared on radio and television as an expert on art history and art crime, including BBC, ITV, CNBC and MSNBC. Charney is the author of numerous articles and a novel, The Art Thief (2007).
Whenever I am approached by someone to buy my art, who I did not know, I always insist that I be paid through PayPal or Payoneer. After that, I usually never heard from those people again. Another way for an artist to protect themselves in a transaction like this is to insist to have the transaction handled by an escrow agent. The final transaction, shipping etc. is not completed until all of the funds have been verified and cleared. Any legitimate buyer or collector of art will not have a problem dealing in either manner. Anyone who objects to this way of doing business with you is someone who you do not want to do business with!
— The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the amount of illicit money that is laundered each year to be between “2 - 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion - $2 trillion in current US dollars.” The difficulty of knowing exact figures accounts for the huge margin within estimates. The UN’s estimates specifically cite “Mega-Byte” as an issue, defining the term as “money in the form of symbols on computer screens the can move anywhere in the world with speed and ease.”
New England Glass Works (American, 1818-1888), Black-Amethyst Sinumbra Lamp, 1830-1835, Translucent dark amethyst glass appearing black, pressed, with patinated copper alloy (brass) fittings and iron alloy lamp mechanism, a blown transparent colorless glass shade, ground and wheel-cut, and a transparent blown glass chimney (replaced), 17 1/2 in., 2016.214.
In seeking to revoke the sale based on an “incomplete” provenance, the buyer claimed that the provenance constituted a warranty under the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) because it was part of the “basis of the bargain.” Under UCC § 2-313(1)(a), “[a]ny affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer which relates to the goods and becomes part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.” Section 2-313(1)(b) provides that “[a]ny description of the goods which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the description.” It is hard to argue that these sections are not worded broadly enough to encompass the provenance of art work, assuming that provenance was considered part of “the basis of the bargain” when the artwork was sold. The bad news for the seller is that determining whether the provenance was part of “the basis of the bargain” in a given transaction will likely be a question of fact for a jury to decide. That means that, absent precautionary measures such as an express disclaimer as to completeness and accuracy, the question of whether the provenance provided by the seller in an art sale constitutes a warranty will not be decided until after a good deal of expensive litigation. And it is certain that if the provenance is arguably misrepresented or incomplete, the buyer will be able to produce an “expert” to testify about the importance of provenance in the art world, all in support of the buyer’s argument that the given provenance was part of the basis of the bargain.
Despite those advances, the detection of fraudulent art remains a complex undertaking. It is particularly difficult to weed out forgeries in the work of modern artists whose large numbers of works and superstar statuses make them especially attractive to those who commit fraud. Pablo Picasso, for example, was a prolific artist, creating a huge number of works on canvas and on paper as well as sculptures and ceramics. Considering his vast output and the varying styles and media in which he worked, scholars have had difficulty establishing a definitive corpus for him. The prestige associated with owning a Picasso and the difficulty of attribution, especially for a drawing, made and continues to make fraudulent representations of his work hard to police.