Perhaps most frightening of all, there is no telling how many fakes still lie in plain sight, accepted as originals by experts and the public alike. Famed contemporary forgers such as Wolfgang Beltracchi and Mark Landis, for instance, have infiltrated many museum collections. In 2014, Switzerland’s Fine Art Expert Institute estimated that 50 percent of all work on the market is fake—a figure that was quickly second-guessed, but remains troubling.
One may logically question the real meaning of the difference between a genuine and a spurious work of art when in many cases it requires such expert study to detect the difference between the two. Or to phrase it another way, what is the difference in value of a work of art that has been on view in a museum for 40 years, after it has been proved to be false? This is a somewhat philosophical point in that the object itself has not changed, only our opinion of it. Its monetary value has been reduced from that of a rare, expensive, original piece to that of an attractive but spurious imitation. Its aesthetic quality has become a real danger, as it is a perversion of the truth. The forgery presents a false understanding of the work of an artist or an ancient culture, one which has been perverted in its modern translation. To appreciate the work of ancient artists their work must be studied alone and not be diverted by forgeries, or one will be inexorably misguided.
There are no accepted estimates on the amounts of money laundered through the art market, although the general belief is that it is enormous and expanding as regulations on other asset classes, from real estate to foreign exchange, tighten up everywhere. The International Monetary Fund estimated that "the amount available for laundering through the financial system" was worth 2.7 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2009 or $1.6-trillion (U.S.).
To identify full-time occupation, archaeologists look for clues such as chemical signatures in bones that distinguish locals from migrants and the geographic provenance of raw materials. — Bridget Alex, Discover Magazine, "The World Is Our Niche," 3 June 2019 Many websites list used aircraft parts but omit details like final prices or provenance documents. — Agam Shah, WSJ, "Honeywell Brings Blockchain to Used Aircraft Parts Market," 28 May 2019 Part of what's remarkable about this pearl is the cutting edge science that went into verifying its age and provenance. — Stellene Volandes, Town & Country, "A Rare Natural Pearl That Once Belonged to a Spanish Princess Is For Sale," 14 May 2019 Alien provenance Loeb and Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate, spotted the marauding meteor in a catalog compiled by the Center for Near Earth Object Studies. — Nadia Drake, National Geographic, "An interstellar meteor may have slammed into Earth," 16 Apr. 2019 To prove their provenance, both to consumers and retailers, Bellucci is deploying blockchain technology developed by Oracle along their supply chain. — Nell Lewis, CNN, "Could blockchain help you become a more ethical shopper?," 5 June 2019 Wohl also has boasted of launching several businesses, though their provenances are vague and their client lists even vaguer, and he has been banned from Twitter for allegedly creating fake accounts. — The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "They keep trying to smear Democrats, and keep failing," 4 June 2019 Her rose gold Rolex has similar sentimental provenance. — Chloe Malle, Vogue, "Inside Dating-App Bumble’s Bid For Global Domination," 18 Apr. 2019 Tales of their provenance ricocheted around León for years. — Alex Kingsbury, BostonGlobe.com, "You’ve got mail — for now," 10 May 2018
Some exposed forgers have later sold their reproductions honestly, by attributing them as copies, and some have actually gained enough notoriety to become famous in their own right. Forgeries painted by the late Elmyr de Hory, featured in the film F for Fake directed by Orson Welles, have become so valuable that forged de Horys have appeared on the market.
The victims of art fraud are the artists who own the works, collectors who are defrauded through purchase of forged works, and museums that may use public or donated money to buy fraudulent works of art or works with a falsified provenance. Countries that lose valuable works of art to the international art market under false pretenses are also subject to art fraud.
The Wolf of Wall Street was a hit when it was released in 2013. Moviegoers all over the world loved the story of excessive wealth and greed. But most people didn’t know that the movie was partially funded by a money-laundering scheme involving famous works of art. Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, had siphoned part of a $1 billion fortune from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund into American assets, such as real estate and paintings by Basquiat, Rothko, and Van Gogh.
A tale of literary forgery that came to light in the early 21st century was that of the celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who confessed in her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2008), that while down on her luck in the 1990s she had forged and sold to collectors hundreds of letters by various notable figures—Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Lillian Hellman among them.
Fine examples of pottery and porcelain have always commanded high prices, which have, in turn, encouraged the making of forgeries and reproductions. Since many European factories tried to imitate Italian majolica during the 19th century when it was especially popular, forgeries are common. The work of Urbino, Castel Durante, Faenza, and Gubbio was copied freely, and, to a lesser extent, so were the wares of Orvieto and Florence. Most of these forgeries are not close enough to deceive a reasonably expert eye. Potters used natural deposits the impurities of which, for good or ill, often affected the final result; until recently it has been impossible to procure materials in a pure state. In all but a few isolated instances (some German stoneware reproductions, for example) the forger no longer has access to these original deposits and he has to imitate the effect of the impurities as best he can. Although the best forgeries are often remarkably close to the originals, they are not very numerous.
Meeting with the undercover agent in May 2001, Katzen suggested exporting the Modigliani and Degas out of the U.S. for resale, which could take "six months to one year," the indictment says. Katzen proposed to the agent that they build up an inventory in Europe to be marketed "creatively" and that they establish a long-term relationship in moving "large amounts," the indictment says. To assure the would-be buyer, documents were sent to establish authenticity, the indictment says.
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.
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.
Knoedler’s fantastic tale of fraud begins in the early 1990s on the streets of Manhattan. That’s where a former waiter from Spain, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, came upon a Chinese artist peddling canvases on the sidewalk. Bergantiños approached the man, Pei-Shen Qian, and said that he had friends who wanted works by esteemed artists but could not afford the real things. Could Pei-Shen duplicate paintings for them? Bergantiños reportedly offered $500 per copy.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”
In the composite fraud, or pastiche, the forger combines copies of various parts of another artist’s work to form a new composition and adds a few connecting elements of his own to make it a convincing presentation. This type of forgery is more difficult to detect than the copy. Such a combining of various elements from different pieces can be very deceptive, because a creative artist often borrows from his own work. In fact, the similarity of a figure or an object in a forgery to that in a well-known work of art often adds to the believability of the new creation.
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.
Whenever I am approached by someone to buy my art, who I did not know, I always insist that I be paid through PayPal or Payoneer. After that, I usually never heard from those people again. Another way for an artist to protect themselves in a transaction like this is to insist to have the transaction handled by an escrow agent. The final transaction, shipping etc. is not completed until all of the funds have been verified and cleared. Any legitimate buyer or collector of art will not have a problem dealing in either manner. Anyone who objects to this way of doing business with you is someone who you do not want to do business with!
Another reason that art fraud is difficult to control is that the art market is enormous, unwieldy, and greatly varied, embracing items from Victorian buttons to 6th-century Greek vases and from medieval pilgrim badges to contemporary photographs. Business is often conducted under the veil of secrecy, with buyers wishing to remain anonymous to avoid the attention of burglars and other opportunists. It would be logistically impossible to monitor all of the transactions between dealers, private collectors, and museums that are in the business of acquiring art. Suspected art forgeries are generally considered on a case-by-case basis, because they can usually be identified only by an expert in the field. But it is not unusual for two experts to have wildly different opinions of the authenticity of the same object, based in each case on reputable evidence.