* Get full names and contact information for all galleries or auction houses that the seller claims previously owned the art. If these galleries are still in business, contact them in order to confirm that the information provided by the seller is correct. If none of the galleries or auction houses are traceable, then this may be cause for concern.
While these laws were helpful in tracking criminal activity, money laundering itself wasn't made illegal in the United States until 1986, with the passage of the Money Laundering Control Act. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the USA Patriot Act expanded money-laundering efforts by allowing investigative tools designed for organized crime and drug trafficking prevention to be used in terrorist investigations.
The wealthy figured this out in a big way back in the 1980s, giving rise to ‘art stars’ valued in the millions. And with the increasing popularity and geographical scope of biennials and art fairs in the 1990s, rich people all over the world now have access to seas of multi-million dollar investments that can be rolled up and stored just about anywhere.
* An appraisal for the art does not constitute valid provenance unless it has been performed by a respected expert or authority on the artist, and states that the art is absolutely by the artist. If you have any questions about an appraisal, contact the appraiser directly before bidding on the art and verify their qualifications to make any statements of authenticity contained within the appraisal. Any appraiser making statements of authenticity would also have to be a nationally or internationally respected authority on the artist in question. When you can't verify the appraiser's credentials, contact the appraiser, the appraisal does not include adequate contact information for the appraiser, or you can't make out the signature, be very careful. Best procedure would be not to bid on or buy the art. (FYI, an appraisal may assume the art is genuine and have statements or disclaimers to that effect, but is not in and of itself an authentication of the art. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE APPRAISAL INCLUDING ANY DISCLAIMERS CAREFULLY. In other words, you may need a separate authentication or provenance to go along with such an appraisal.)
The Art Loss Register (ALR), founded in 1991, grew out of the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR: founded 1969), a not-for-profit organization that initiated and maintained (until 1997) an international database of stolen works of art, antiques, and collectables. After 1998 ALR assumed maintenance, although IFAR retains ownership, and the two organizations work closely together.
Following these professional museum standards, TMA periodically reviews its holdings and occasionally deaccessions a select few works of art, based on what will enhance the entire Museum collection. The funds realized from deaccessioning are used solely to improve TMA’s collection through the purchase of new art, in compliance with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Professional Practices in Art Museums (see here), the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Code of Ethics (see the most recent update to AAM’s guidelines here) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics (see here).
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.
In paleontology and paleoanthropology, it is recognized that fossils can also move from their primary context and are sometimes found, apparently in-situ, in deposits to which they do not belong because they have been moved, for example, by the erosion of nearby but different outcrops. It is unclear how strictly paleontology maintains the provenience and provenance distinction. For example, a short glossary at a website (primarily aimed at young students) of the American Museum of Natural History treats the terms as synonymous, while scholarly paleontology works make frequent use of provenience in the same precise sense as used in archaeology and paleoanthropology.
Ultraviolet rays readily reveal additions or alterations to a painting, since the varnish layers and some of the paint layers fluoresce to different colours. Ultraviolet is also used in the examination of marble sculpture. Old marble develops a surface that will fluoresce to a yellow-greenish colour, whereas a modern piece or an old surface recently recut will fluoresce to a bright violet. Infrared rays can penetrate thin paint layers in an oil painting to reveal underpainting that may disclose an earlier painting on the same canvas, or perhaps a signature that has been painted out and covered by a more profitable one. X rays are used to examine the internal structure of an object. A carved wooden Virgin supposedly of the 15th century but revealing modern machine-made nails deep inside is obviously a fraud. A forger usually works for the surface effect and is not concerned with the internal structures.
Sack discussed transferring the proceeds from the resale to an offshore account, the agent's affidavit says, and the dealers explained that the buyer would see a net loss in funds. When the undercover agent mentioned normally paying "10% to 15%" to launder money, Katzen said the works could easily be sold at a 10% discount, the affidavit says. Katzen said he would move the money very, very slowly, the affidavit says, and told the agent he had a client in Europe who was ready to buy the Modigliani "under these circumstances."
Conventional X-ray can be used to detect earlier work present under the surface of a painting (see image, right). Sometimes artists will legitimately re-use their own canvasses, but if the painting on top is supposed to be from the 17th century, but the one underneath shows people in 19th-century dress, the scientist will assume the top painting is not authentic. Also x-rays can be used to view inside an object to determine if the object has been altered or repaired.
Tom Ripley is involved in an artwork forgery scheme in several of Patricia Highsmith's crime novels, most notably Ripley Under Ground (1970), in which he is confronted by a collector who correctly suspects that the paintings sold by Tom are forgeries. The novel was adapted to film in 2005, and the 1977 film The American Friend is also partially based on the novel.
Art history is rife with high profile scams, such as that of Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned painter who developed a complicated system of baking his Old Master-style work to age it, and subsequently sold $60 million in fake Vermeers to world class museums and Nazi leader Hermann Göring during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (While current art historians are quick to slam his work as obviously inferior, Van Meegeren actually had to paint a “new” Vermeer at trial to prove he had not sold the Nazis a priceless original.)
In this context, the provenance can occasionally be the detailed history of where an object has been since its creation, as in art history contexts – not just since its modern finding. In some cases, such as where there is an inscription on the object, or an account of it in written materials from the same era, an object of study in archaeology or cultural anthropology may have an early provenance – a known history that predates modern research – then a provenience from its modern finding, and finally a continued provenance relating to its handling and storage or display after the modern acquisition.
The copy is the easiest forgery to make and is usually the easiest to detect. When a duplicate has appeared the problem is merely to determine which is the original and which is the copy. At least a dozen excellent replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa exist, many of them by his students. Various owners of these copies have at various times claimed that they possess the original. The Louvre is satisfied that it owns the painting by Leonardo because close examination reveals slight changes in the composition underneath the outermost layer of paint, and because this painting has an unbroken record of ownership from the time that the artist painted it.
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.