An example of this risk without fault arose out of an art dealer’s acquisition of a painting by another distinguished 20th-century artist. Again, there was no question concerning the authenticity of the work. The information provided by the seller at the time of the sale noted that the work had been part of a celebrated 1960s exhibition of the artist’s work at a well-known New York museum. The inclusion of the work in this exhibition was acknowledgment of the work’s value and its importance to the artist’s oeuvre (not to mention further corroboration of its authenticity). Unfortunately, the exhibition history was not correct. The work was not included in the exhibition; the work was supposed to be included, but due to various circumstances another work was selected instead. There were even documents indicating that the work was in the show and it took some investigation to determine that it was not. Even though the seller had not intended to deceive or mislead the buyer/dealer, that did not change the fact that the work was measurably less valuable than the dealer thought at the time of the purchase, based on the information provided. Because the case settled before any lawsuit was filed, no court had the opportunity to address whether the erroneous exhibition history gave rise to a valid breach of warranty claim.
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.
Of course, certain countries already impose AML regulations on the art world. The European Union Commission issued its 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive in June 2018, which must be implemented by Member States by January 2020, and which in part expands its coverage of “obliged entities” to persons trading in art, acting as intermediaries in the trade of art, or storing art in freeports, if the value of the transaction or a group of linked transactions equals €10,000 or more. In the United States, although the BSA already applies to dealers in precious metals, stones and jewels, and thereby requires them to file Suspicious Activity Reports and comply with other AML obligations, no such rules currently apply to U.S. dealers in art.
From 1994 until 2009, Knoedler & Co. admittedly — but, the claim goes, unknowingly — sold 31 other bogus paintings. Through those sales, the gallery raked in some $80 million. Luke Nikas, Freedman’s lawyer, says that she earned $10- to $12-million between 1994 and 2008. Moguls and megalevel tastemakers all thought they were buying works by such abstract expressionist blue-chippers as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning.
← The crate went through customs with a valuation of $100, though it contained Basquiat’s 1982 painting Hannibal (commodities valued under $200 aren’t required to be declared at customs.) The painting had been bought and shipped by Brazilian Banker Edemar cid Ferreira in an elaborate scheme to launder over $50 million that was illegally obtained when Ferreira’s bank, Banco Santos, went bankrupt.
Despite those advances, the detection of fraudulent art remains a complex undertaking. It is particularly difficult to weed out forgeries in the work of modern artists whose large numbers of works and superstar statuses make them especially attractive to those who commit fraud. Pablo Picasso, for example, was a prolific artist, creating a huge number of works on canvas and on paper as well as sculptures and ceramics. Considering his vast output and the varying styles and media in which he worked, scholars have had difficulty establishing a definitive corpus for him. The prestige associated with owning a Picasso and the difficulty of attribution, especially for a drawing, made and continues to make fraudulent representations of his work hard to police.