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.
In regards to the critical issue of the source of the funds, the AML Guidelines “encourage” art businesses “to decline payments from a third party who is not their client and buyer of record. If there are legitimate reasons why it is justified for the Art Business to accept payment from a third party, before doing so the Art Business should conduct enhanced due diligence on both their buyer of record and the third party payer[.]” The AML Guidelines also articulate a “preference” for art businesses only “to accept payments from reputable banks in jurisdictions subject to AML regulation and supervision. Such reputable banks and financial institutions are generally subject to a high degree of AML regulation. That said[,] Art Businesses should remain vigilent and not rely entirely on the fact that banks and financial institutions will have carried out the necessary checks and verification to be satisfied that the source of funds is clean.”
These pesky forgers don’t limit their scams to painting, and are capable of turning their hands to many types of fakery. In the case of this set of six Louis XIV chairs—sold by highly-respected Parisian antiques dealer Kraemer Gallery to the Palace of Versailles itself—it emerged after the sale was made public that there just were not as many chairs in the court of Versailles as there are currently in circulation. The natural conclusion would be that some of the presumed authentic chairs must indeed be fakes.
An important strategy for combating that type of art fraud is research into the history of ownership of the work (called provenance) and the mention of the work in archival records. Genuine works of art appear in historical records and are owned by individuals, and one way to determine the authenticity of a work is to establish that kind of history. Marks of ownership, such as owners’ stamps, may be found on the object itself, or dates signifying change in ownership may be written on the object. Needless to say, historical marks on a work can also be forged, so provenance research alone is not sufficient to determine authenticity.
James Martin’s expert report shows the signatures from four Knoedler paintings that were purported Jackson Pollocks. The top two signatures are quite similar. The bottom right signature shows signs that the name was first traced onto the canvas using a sharp tool, and is very similar to the signature on the bottom left, which is misspelled “Pollok.” Courtesy of James Martin.
Other paintings are now also implicated, including a Lucas Cranach the Elder, from the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, that was seized by French authorities from the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix in March. An Orazio Gentileschi painting on lapis lazuli, also sold by Weiss, and a purported Parmigianino have been identified as suspect as well. Rumor has it that works by up to 25 different Old Master paintings may be involved. (For a break-down on what we know so far, read “The Frans Hals Forgery Scandal, Explained.”)
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:
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!
As for you artists, firmly establishing yourself as link number one in the chain of provenance is essential. These days, proof of authenticity or authorship accompanying a work of art is more important than ever. In order to prevent unscrupulous sellers from trafficking in fakes, and avoid situations where people question your art, keep good records right from the start and provide some form of documentation with every artwork you produce. The last thing you want is people trying to figure out whether or not you actually created certain works, or contacting you with requests to authenticate works that have no accompanying paperwork or documentation. The bad news is that in the long run, repeated incidents surrounding undocumented art can actually compromise your market. So make sure there's never any doubt that ownership of your art begins with you. Read more about how to do that in this article about How to Authenticate Your Art.
The hardest deception to detect is usually one that has been made recently. The forgery is a product of the time in which it was made, and the forger is closer to current understanding of the artist or period forged. The forgery, therefore, is often more appealing than a genuine work of art. As a forgery ages, viewpoints and tastes shift, and there is a new basis of understanding. Consequently, a forgery rarely survives more than a generation.
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.
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.
Provenance trials, where material of different provenances are planted in a single place or at different locations spanning a range of environmental conditions, is a way to reveal genetic variation among provenances. It also contributes to an understanding of how different provenances respond to various climatic and environmental conditions and can as such contribute with knowledge on how to strategically select provenances for climate change adaptation.
Evidence of provenance in the more general sense can be of importance in archaeology. Fakes are not unknown, and finds are sometimes removed from the context in which they were found without documentation, reducing their value to science. Even when apparently discovered in situ, archaeological finds are treated with caution. The provenience of a find may not be properly represented by the context in which it was found (e.g. due to stratigraphic layers being disturbed by erosion, earthquakes, or ancient reconstruction or other disturbance at a site. Artifacts can also be moved through looting as well as trade, far from their place of origin and long before modern rediscovery. Further research is often required to establish the true provenance of a find, and what the relationship is between the exact provenience and the overall provenance.
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.
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.
Data provenance covers the provenance of computerized data. There are two main aspects of data provenance: ownership of the data and data usage. Ownership will tell the user who is responsible for the source of the data, ideally including information on the originator of the data. Data usage gives details regarding how the data has been used and modified and often includes information on how to cite the data source or sources. Data provenance is of particular concern with electronic data, as data sets are often modified and copied without proper citation or acknowledgement of the originating data set. Databases make it easy to select specific information from data sets and merge this data with other data sources without any documentation of how the data was obtained or how it was modified from the original data set or sets. The automated analysis of data provenance graphs has been described as a mean to verify compliance with regulations regarding data usage such as introduced by the EU GDPR.
Forgers of older artworks sometimes attempt to override forensic methods by using or plausibly imitating authentic materials. One of the best-known cases is that of forger Han van Meegeren, who used a modern paint mixture but mimicked an older technique to a sufficient degree that his paintings were certified, as he intended, as originals by the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Even though further testing can reveal that a paint’s age has been masked, museums and collectors often simply accept initial results.