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.
Wolfgang Beltracchi is a name you may never have heard before. Very few people have. But his paintings have brought him millions and millions of dollars in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. They have made their way into museums, galleries, and private collections all over the world. What makes him a story for us is that all his paintings are fakes. And what makes him an unusual forger is that he didn’t copy the paintings of great artists, but created new works which he imagined the artist might have painted or which might have gotten lost. Connoisseurs and dealers acknowledge that Beltracchi is the most successful art forger of our time -- perhaps of all time. Brilliant not only as a painter, but as a conman of epic proportions.
The copy is the easiest forgery to make and is usually the easiest to detect. When a duplicate has appeared the problem is merely to determine which is the original and which is the copy. At least a dozen excellent replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa exist, many of them by his students. Various owners of these copies have at various times claimed that they possess the original. The Louvre is satisfied that it owns the painting by Leonardo because close examination reveals slight changes in the composition underneath the outermost layer of paint, and because this painting has an unbroken record of ownership from the time that the artist painted it.
Art history, historical study of the visual arts, being concerned with identifying, classifying, describing, evaluating, interpreting, and understanding the art products and historic development of the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, the decorative arts, drawing, printmaking, photography, interior design, etc. Art historical research has two primary concerns.…
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."
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.
Recently, photographs have become the target of forgers, and as the market value of these works increase, so will forgery continue. Following their deaths, works by Man Ray and Ansel Adams became frequent targets of forgery. The detection of forged photography is particularly difficult, as experts must be able to tell the difference between originals and reprints.
Finally, forgers teach us to doubt connoisseurs. There’s a myth out there, propagated by the market and some strains of academe, that certain thoroughbred experts can smell authentic art at 100 yards. After more than a century of bad attributions, reattributions and long-lived fakes, you’d think we would know better than to believe in such fantasy creatures. The truth is, the connoisseur’s eye works brilliantly in that vast majority of attributions where an artwork comes without a name attached but clearly has a single maker’s signature look. And then that eye fails utterly in those remaining, more iffy cases where a piece looks quite like some artist’s work, but may almost as easily be by someone else — including a forger.
Redistribution of the world’s wealth after the Renaissance created an explosive demand for art by a newly educated and prosperous mercantile middle class. Guilds of Master artists and students became virtual factories for art that was produced to fill this demand. The sale of State and Ecclesiastical art collections created new secondary markets in the form of dealers, galleries and auction houses. For the first time in history, art became a commercial commodity.
More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.
The AML Standards for Art Market Operators (“AML Standards”) are set forth by the Basel Institute on Governance, an independent not-for-profit organization. Not surprisingly, the AML Standards adopt a “risk based” approach to establishing measures to mitigate money laundering risks, and further note that “[s]mall businesses may not have the resources to address money-laundering risks in the same way that large auction houses or major dealers and galleries will have, and may have a different risk exposure.” The AML Standards are intended to apply to everone trading in art objects, and intermediaries between buyers and sellers. They also suggest that service industries supprting the trade in art objects that are already subject to AML laws, like financial institutions, should identify their clients and customers in the art trade “as higher risk as long as there are no internationally applicable standards.”
Provenance (from the French provenir, 'to come from/forth') is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including archaeology, paleontology, archives, manuscripts, printed books and science and computing.
The provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Life dates of owners, if known, are enclosed in brackets. Uncertain information is indicated by the terms “possibly” or “probably” and explained in footnotes. Dealers, auction houses, or agents are enclosed in parentheses to distinguish them from private owners. Relationships between owners and methods of transactions are indicated in the text and clarified through punctuation: a semicolon is used to indicate that the work passed directly between two owners (including dealers, auction houses, or agents), and a period is used to separate two owners (including dealers auction houses or agents) if a direct transfer did not occur or is not known to have occurred. Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
Occasionally a forger appears with a certain specious glamour like Constantine Simonides (1824–67), a Greek adventurer who varied his trade in perfectly genuine manuscripts with the sale of strange concoctions of his own. Maj. George de Luna Byron, alias de Gibler, who claimed to be a natural son of Byron by a Spanish countess, successfully produced and disposed of large quantities of forgeries ascribed to his alleged father and to Shelley, John Keats, and others. More commonplace is the forgery encountered in the case of the Edinburgh forger A.H. (“Antique”) Smith, who was responsible for forgeries of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Stuart, and other persons from Scottish literature and history—a feat that ultimately earned him 12 months’ imprisonment.
While pretty much all art could be scandalized, some are more susceptible to scheming than others. Digital artist Daniel Temkin points out that digital art, which doesn’t need to be shipped or stored because it has no physical manifestation, is particularly ripe for your risky business. To make it easy for you, Temkin has created an "online auction house, offering net art by internationally renowned artists and their impersonators" called NetVVorth. The art experiment/tongue-in-cheek criminal resource hosts a series of counterfeit works created by legitimate net artists. “The collection is offered to expose net art as a viable investment to serious collectors by establishing a shadow market, proving its ability to hide illicit profits and transfer them easily around the globe. All works are supplied with provenance papers. All sales are in Bitcoin. The true counterfeiter is identified only to the owner of the piece.” The collection includes roughly 35 works. Pick your favorite. (And if you hate digital art, like most collectors, you can always hire an art consultant who can help you pick out some “reeeeeal” art.)