Your documents must be investigated—because they are worth nothing until proven to be authentic. You have to be able to trace the qualified individual’s signature, the artist in the question, or previous owners back to real people. This will help you confirm that the document given to you is not fallacious. Unqualified experts attribute art all the time, and the documents might be completely trustworthy.
Even though De Sole was appointed chairman of Sotheby’s in 2015 and, presumably, is art-savvy, Clarick points out that his being scammed speaks volumes. “To me,” says Clarick, “it says that the works were pretty good-looking and conveys the impeccable reputation that Knoedler and Ann Freedman had. People believed them. You don’t buy a really fancy diamond from Tiffany and have it checked out on 47th Street.”
“The tax laws in art make it basically legal to not pay taxes on art. If you’re a serious art buyer, you just get a good tax accountant,” former New York-based art consultant Beth Fiore tells Hopes&Fears. “If you show newly purchased works in certain museums then you never have to pay taxes on it.” Edward Winkleman of Winkleman Gallery maintains that his gallery keeps fastidious records of all transactions and pays taxes even on cash sales. But he admits that, “the state generally wouldn't question what is reported.” He also tells us that individual sales don’t need to be reported, only the totals for each quarter. Hypothetically, someone could buy millions of dollars worth of art without the IRS knowing, and then later sell those works for a “legitimate” profit that looks clean on taxes.
Forgers also remind us that great art depends on the ideas of artists, not necessarily on their actual hands. Many wonderful works of art by figures such as Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens were executed partly or even mostly by their studio assistants, which doesn’t make them any less expressive of Titian or Rembrandt’s innovations. For nearly two decades, our forger in Queens managed to fool both the dealers at Knoedler and their art-savvy clients, and the only reason his fakes could exist and succeed is because the true achievement of Pollock and Rothko was to come up with a set of ideas and procedures for making art. The faker could be considered a faithful assistant of theirs who happened to arrive after they’d died; ditto the hundreds of forgers of Qi Baishi.
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.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”
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.
Art fraud, the deliberately false representation of the artist, age, origins, or ownership of a work of art in order to reap financial gain. Forgery of a famous artist’s work is the best-known kind of art fraud, but fraud may also result from the knowing misattribution of the age or origin of a work of art—if, for example, an art dealer were to falsely assert that a statue was from 5th-century-bce Greece or that a vase was from the Chinese Ming dynasty, for the purpose of making a greater profit, because works from those particular regions or time periods are deemed more valuable on the contemporary art market. Art theft for resale is also a form of art fraud.