When you sell your home the paperwork details the sale, including your name, and the title search lists the names of the people who owned the property before you. But when someone sells an artwork at auction — even something worth $100 million, much more than your house — the identity is typically concealed.  […] In finance, Treasury officials last year began asking banks to identify customers who set up accounts in names of shell companies. In real estate, they introduced a pilot program that requires the full identification of people who buy expensive properties in New York and Miami using cash and shell companies.
This essay addresses provenance issues in the context of a sale. Of course the provenance of a piece is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but how important to the seller and buyer is knowing that, for example, there were three private owners between the artist and the current owner. If one of those owners was Paul Mellon or a major museum, it might be very important. And, have the buyer and seller made that importance clear in their sale agreement?
Further, and as noted, other traditional vehicles for laundering money have become less attractive, thereby driving those who need a mechanism to launder large sums into the arms of the art world.  As we repeatedly have blogged, one of the most time-honored and relatively convenient vehicles for laundering — real estate — is under intense scrutiny and now is subject in the U.S. to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)’s ongoing Geographic Targeting Orders (these require U.S. title insurance companies in many parts of the U.S. to identify the natural persons behind legal entities used in purchases of residential real estate involving $300,000 or more and performed without a bank loan or similar form of external financing).

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art uses a variation of the format suggested by The AAM Guide to Provenance Research (Washington, D.C., 2001). Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the earliest known owner. Methods of transactions and relationships between owners, if known, are indicated at the beginning of each line. The term “With” precedes a dealer’s name to indicate their commercial status when the method of their acquisition is unknown. Life dates for private collectors are included in parentheses and dates of ownership, when known, are indicated at the end of each line. Uncertain information is preceded by the terms “possibly” or “probably.” Footnotes are used to document or clarify information.
In another common form of money laundering, called smurfing (also known as "structuring"), the criminal breaks up large chunks of cash into multiple small deposits, often spreading them over many different accounts, to avoid detection. Money laundering can also be accomplished through the use of currency exchanges, wire transfers, and "mules"—cash smugglers, who sneak large amounts of cash across borders and deposit them in foreign accounts, where money-laundering enforcement is less strict.
The innocuous nature of these copies gets overshadowed by the explosive scandals that do rock the art world from time to time. Recent headlines include the Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, which was shut down this summer after 30 percent of the paintings were alleged to be forgeries, and the Sotheby’s $10.6 million sale of a fake Frans Hals a year ago. Legally, Lowy clients are formally required to acknowledge that the piece it is a copy and will not be used unlawfully, but just in case, the firm’s contract indemnifies the company against any potential wrongdoing. “There is certainly fraudulent behavior out there,” says co-owner Brad Shar. “We wanted to make sure that we were legally protected.”
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The commonest motivation for fraudulence is monetary gain. Fraudulence is most likely to occur when the demand for a certain kind of work coincides with scarcity and thus raises the market prices. Unprincipled dealers have encouraged technically skilled artists to create forgeries, occasionally guiding them to supply the precise demands of collectors or museums. This is by no means a modern phenomenon: in the 1st and 2nd centuries ad, sculptors working in Rome made replicas of Grecian works to satisfy the demands for the greatly admired Grecian sculpture of the preceding five centuries. These copies or adaptations apparently were not offered as contemporary work but as booty from Greece at the extraordinarily high prices paid for such works in imperial Rome. Similar circumstances may account for the “discovery” of a manuscript or autograph by a dead author or composer, although many such finds are quite legitimate and have been authenticated.
Four people, including a Saudi prince, were recently indicted on narcotics charges in Miami. The indictment cites one of the defendants with money laundering and seeks forfeiture of two works of art in connection with the deal. The oil paintings, seized by the U.S. in New York, are "Bandits attacking a coach" attributed to Francisco de Goya and "Buste de jeune" attributed to Tsuguharu Foujita. Both works are also known by other titles. The indictment charges one José Maria Clemente with financial transactions designed to conceal the source of illegal drug proceeds.
The 2,200 photographs by masters like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen — more than could fit into an 18-wheeler — were paid for, court papers say, with some of the $78 million that the authorities say Mr. Rivkin got from defrauding oil companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil. Mr. Rivkin, who has not been charged with any crimes, was last thought to be in Spain and had arranged to have the photos shipped there.
Clare Roth is an artist who ekes out a living making copies of Degas paintings and other masterpieces while she struggles to live down a mistake from her past. She enters into a complicated agreement with a powerful gallery owner to forge a stolen Degas painting in return for a show at his gallery. Things take a turn when she suspects that this stolen "masterpiece" is also a forgery.
Provenance research, or the history of ownership of a work of art, is a regular part of museum practice. The goal of provenance research is to trace the history of an artwork through its owners and locations, from the moment of its creation until today. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art conducts regular, ongoing provenance research on the artwork in its collection.
Based on a real life, still unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, The Art Forger manages to include more details about brush strokes and forgery techniques than I knew existed in a gripping story of artistic obsession. Claire Roth is a struggling young artist, blacklisted by the art establishment for a perceived crime against one of their darlings. She pays her bills by copying famous works of art for an above board online retailer. Then she makes a devil's bargain ...more

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 order to fool inexperienced buyers, unscrupulous sellers often say they have provenance or documented ownership histories that they claim confirms the authenticity of bogus art. In some cases, this concocted provenance appears to date all the way back to the original artists themselves. Before bidding on or buying any art, your job is to make sure any such provenance offered by sellers is correct, legitimate, verifiable and does in fact attest to the authorship of the art. (Problem art may also be accompanied by questionable Certificates of Authenticity. To evaluate a Certificate of Authenticity or COA, read Is Your Certificate of Authenticity Worth the Paper It's Printed On?)
Art forgery dates back more than two thousand years. Roman sculptors produced copies of Greek sculptures. Presumably[clarification needed] the contemporary buyers knew that they were not genuine. During the classical period art was generally created for historical reference, religious inspiration, or simply aesthetic enjoyment. The identity of the artist was often of little importance to the buyer.
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.[68]
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.
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.
The Dutch forger Han van Meegeren employed a combined composite and stylistic procedure when he created seven paintings between 1936 and 1942 based on the work of Johannes Vermeer. In The Supper at Emmaus he combined figures, heads, hands, plates, and a wine jar from various early genuine Vermeers; it was hailed as a masterpiece and the earliest known Vermeer. Ironically, van Meegeren never was detected as a forger. At the end of World War II he was arrested for having sold a painting attributed to Vermeer to one of the enemy and was accused of being a collaborator. He chose to reveal himself as a forger, which was a lesser offense, and proved his confession by painting another “Vermeer” under the eye of the authorities.
Art specialists with expertise in art authentication began to surface in the art world during the late 1850s. At that time they were usually historians or museum curators, writing books about paintings, sculpture, and other art forms. Communication among the different specialties was poor, and they often made mistakes when authenticating pieces. While many books and art catalogues were published prior to 1900, many were not widely circulated, and often did not contain information about contemporary artwork. In addition, specialists prior to the 1900s lacked many of the important technological means that experts use to authenticate art today. Traditionally, a work in an artist's "catalogue raisonné" has been key to confirming the authenticity, and thus value. Omission from an artist's catalogue raisonné indeed can prove fatal to any potential resale of a work, notwithstanding any proof the owner may offer to support authenticity.[20]

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.


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.

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.

* Provenance must specifically describe the piece of art that's being offered for sale in order to be valid. It should contain important information including dimensions, medium, date of creation (if known), title (if known), and other relevant details. Documents that do not specifically describe the work of art in question do not constitute valid provenance.


— 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.”

No forgery to attain recognition is better known than the “Thomas Rowley” poems of Thomas Chatterton (1752–70), which the youthful author attempted to pass off as the work of a medieval cleric. These poems, which caused a scholarly feud for many years, were influential in the Gothic revival. Chatterton, however, enjoys a place in English letters as a creative genius in his own right. The more conventional forger William Henry Ireland (1777–1835) cheerfully manufactured Shakespearean documents until his forged “lost” tragedy Vortigern and Rowena was laughed off the stage at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1796. More fortunate was Charles Bertram, who produced an account of Roman Britain by “Richard of Westminster,” an imaginary monk. Bertram’s dupe, the eccentric antiquary Dr. William Stukeley, identified the monk with the chronicler Richard of Cirencester, known to have resided at Westminster in the 14th century. Bertram’s forgery (cunningly published in a volume containing the works of two genuine ancient authors, Gildas and Nennius) had an enormous influence upon historians of Roman Britain, lasting into the 20th century. Equally influential were the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736–96), which influenced the early period of the Romantic movement. To what degree Macpherson’s poems are to be regarded as spurious is not certain. Denounced in his own day they were possibly, as he claimed, based upon a genuine oral tradition of Scottish Gaelic poetry; but there can be little doubt that they were carefully edited and interpolated by their collector.
The guidelines of AAMD state that: “Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and, if practiced, should be done in order to refine and improve the quality and appropriateness of the collection, the better to serve the museum’s mission.” The American Alliance of Museums is even more explicit: “For this [use of institutional resources] and other reasons (e.g., when items are considered redundant, are damaged beyond repair or are of poor quality), deaccessioning is both a logical and responsible collections management policy.” We uphold these professional standards and do so in the service of creating an ever-better museum experience for our public and scholars alike.
In a market depressed and made anxious by fakes, investors and private collectors may start pulling out, leaving more room for museums to buy at prices they can afford, which in turn would be good news for any art lover who depends on our public collections. And, since museums don’t have to think about net worth and reselling (let’s forget the Detroit case for a moment), they can live with the risk of maybe having bought a fake. Their audience might still enjoy and learn from the new “Rothko” in the collection.
   The laws of supply and demand dictate that there will be no end to the growing commercial value for a limited number of great works of art; and as long as those who deal in the commercial aspects of art — galleries, art dealers, auction houses and the media — are involved as the arbiters of criteria in judging art, market prices will continue to rise and art forgery will proliferate.

The notion of intellectual property—the idea that artists’ works belong to them—dates at least to medieval Europe, though history records examples of the concept as early as ancient Greece. It had taken hold sufficiently during the Renaissance for Michelangelo to take umbrage when his work was misattributed. It was reported that when he discovered that another artist was receiving credit for sculpting the famous Pietà (now in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), Michelangelo returned with his chisel and added his signature across the centre of the sculpture, on the prominent sash across Mary’s upper body (in Italian): “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.”
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