Fakes and forgeries in the art world are the stuff of legend, the subject of books, films, and television series the world over. In real life, they land people behind bars. 2016 brought us many unwanted things, but it also appears to have been a year when a huge amount of authenticity disputes took place. The spats took shape from contested provenance, to painters faking their own work, to a multimillion dollar Old Masters scandal. From farce to tragedy, we’ve compiled the highlights of this year’s biggest art forgery scandals below.
We take the stewardship and integrity of our collection seriously, from acquisition to deaccession, and maintain transparency about all of our professional practices. Preserving the world’s cultural heritage is of the utmost importance to collecting institutions. To that end, we publicly share our Collections Management Policy (see here) as well as our commitment to ensuring clear provenance. The donors of the deaccessioned objects or their heirs have been contacted, and none have objected to the sales. And indeed, any future acquisitions made with the funds earned through deaccessioning will acknowledge the original donor in the credit line.
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.
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.”
Law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad say “Hannibal” is just one of thousands of valuable artworks being used by criminals to hide illicit profits and illegally transfer assets around the globe. As other traditional money-laundering techniques have come under closer scrutiny, smugglers, drug traffickers, arms dealers and the like have increasingly turned to the famously opaque art market, officials say.
Every work of art carries with it not only the history of its creator, but of its owners as well. Provenance—the record of ownership for a work of art—provides important documentation explaining who, at various points in history, owned the painting, sculpture or artifact at hand. This is an especially important issue for museums, who pay careful attention to provenance to confirm the authenticity of a work of art and its rightful ownership.
From Oct. 19 to Oct. 26, 2017, the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is deaccessioning 68 objects from its antiquities collection through Christie’s auction house in New York. All information about these objects can be found online at Christie’s website. In response to inquiries concerning this sale, it is important to underscore TMA’s collecting philosophy as well as the Museum’s commitment to ensuring clear provenance of all of the objects in its collection.
Our current market, geared toward the ultra-wealthy, is helping few and hurting many. It stomps down all the emerging and midlevel dealers, artists, curators and even collectors who can’t play in the big-money game. It’s also hurting all the art lovers, current and future, who deserve work that’s conceived to address artistic issues, not to sell well to robber barons. If forgers can help burst our art bubble, blessings be upon them.
If a painting has been in private hands for an extended period and on display in a stately home, it may be recorded in an inventory – for example, the Lumley inventory. The painting may also have been noticed by a visitor who subsequently wrote about it. It may have been mentioned in a will or a diary. Where the painting has been bought from a dealer, or changed hands in a private transaction, there may be a bill of sale or sales receipt that provides evidence of provenance. Where the artist is known, there may be a catalogue raisonné listing all the artist's known works and their location at the time of writing. A database of catalogues raisonnés is available at the International Foundation for Art Research. Historic photos of the painting may be discussed and illustrated in a more general work on the artist, period or genre. Similarly, a photograph of a painting may show inscriptions (or a signature) that subsequently became lost as a result of overzealous restoration. Conversely, a photograph may show that an inscription was not visible at an earlier date. One of the disputed aspects of the "Rice" portrait of Jane Austen concerns apparent inscriptions identifying artist and sitter.
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 anonymity of buyers is also a huge advantage for criminals. Who hasn’t seen the images of an art auction for a famous painting at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, where brokers are on the phone with mysterious clients? Art market operators generally refuse to disclose the identities of their clients under the guise of “protecting the integrity of the transactions.”
Even as far back as ancient Rome, Mr. Nagel shows, it was considered utterly normal to copy the Greek statues of Praxiteles or Polyclitus, even while altering them. Patrons wanted access to the larger aesthetic ideas and ideals of their artistic geniuses; they didn’t think of works of art “as singularities, as unrepeatable performances by an author,” as Mr. Nagel puts it.
To sum up, the Times muddles the very different issues of ensuring the integrity of works of art—the authenticity question—which is real and requires an entity that can work with owners who want to maintain their anonymity for legitimate reasons with the issue of beneficial ownership—which is less pressing with art because it is relatively rare and covered by the parallel system of KYC run by the banks the auction houses rely upon to vouch for their clients’ ability to afford the works they want to buy.
While the US art market remains relatively unregulated, organizations across the globe are taking steps to hold dealers accountable for reporting illegal activity. In February of 2013, the European Commission passed ordinances that require European galleries to report sales above 7,500 euros paid in cash, as well as file suspicious-transaction reports. And in the beginning of this year, a forum was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which economist Nouriel Roubini, among others, spoke on the art market’s susceptibility to laundering and other economic crimes like tax avoidance and evasion. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions," said Roubini according to Swiss Info.
The copying of famous works of art dates to the origins of the history of art collecting and therefore to the beginning of the history of art. In the ancient world, replicas of famous works were made in order to satisfy demand by collectors for such works. The bronze Spear Bearer (c. 450–440 bce) by Greek sculptor Polyclitus, for example, achieved great renown for its perfect proportions and beauty. As a result, it was often copied in marble for Roman collectors in subsequent centuries. The copies, which are all that survived into the 21st century, made no pretense of being the original or having been made by Polyclitus.