Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense. Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code. Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.
We’ll likely never know the provenance of the president’s purported Renoir, but Bloch’s is an example of the seldom-spoken yet widespread practice among institutions to forge famous pieces for collectors who’ve either donated or loaned the original works. In 2010, Henry and late wife Marion Bloch promised the Nelson-Atkins Museum their two-decade-old collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. In 2015, two years before the Bloch Collection was slated to debut, the museum began duplicating the works, some in-house, some with external help.
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.)
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.
At any point in a work of art's history, its authenticity can come into question. Often, art is accompanied by documentation, commonly known as provenance, that confirms its authenticity mainly through ownership history. Good provenance (ownership history) leaves no doubt that a work of art is genuine and by the artist who it is stated to be by or whose signature it bears. Unfortunately, numerous forged or otherwise misrepresented works of art are offered for sale with fake or questionable provenance at online auctions, at fixed-price art websites, and at bricks-and-mortar establishments. But nowhere is the proliferation of art with problematic provenance more pervasive than at online auctions.
Art fraud, the deliberately false representation of the artist, age, origins, or ownership of a work of art in order to reap financial gain. Forgery of a famous artist’s work is the best-known kind of art fraud, but fraud may also result from the knowing misattribution of the age or origin of a work of art—if, for example, an art dealer were to falsely assert that a statue was from 5th-century-bce Greece or that a vase was from the Chinese Ming dynasty, for the purpose of making a greater profit, because works from those particular regions or time periods are deemed more valuable on the contemporary art market. Art theft for resale is also a form of art fraud.