Founded in 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art holds a collection of extraordinary artworks. We are a free museum that had nearly half-a-million visitors last year and is nationally renowned for its focus on art education. Even with those distinctions, the Museum is most notable for the quality of its collection. Aside from its comprehensive collection of glass—Toledo is known in America as the Glass City—TMA has never sought to be comprehensive in its approach to collecting—the institution’s focus has been and remains on singular artworks by singular artists. Quality has always been the outstanding attribute of our collection, and the objects being sold are not of the quality of our permanent display collection; have been on display rarely; have not been sought out by scholars; or have not been published in recent decades. In short, these objects were not working to fulfill our mission.
Despite being perfectly legal and of exceptionally high quality, art reproductions do carry a stigma. The owner of one faux Picasso recounted the story of how his grandparents, after selling their entire collection, commissioned a major auction house to duplicate each piece as gifts for their grandchildren. He declined to be named. Two sources from Christie’s, who spoke on background, have confirmed that reproduction is a common practice there. And as of press time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has not returned our request for comment.
At Lowy, collectors interested in hiding their originals in the vault, whether for security purposes, to protect delicate works, or to lower the cost to insure them, can reproduce works without the help of a museum. The company employs both specially trained restoration artists and independent artists in need of a day job to conserve and replicate artworks. The process starts with an extremely high-quality print of a digital image, and then the painstaking application of clear conservators’ gel to simulate brushstrokes. Prices start at about $2,000, while frames tend to quadruple the amount.
Regardless of whether this provision ultimately is enacted, the underlying issue will persist. This post discusses some of the general concerns that the art and antiquities world can be misused as a conduit for dirty money. We then discuss the AML Standards for Art Market Operators proposed by the Basel Institute on Governance, and similar standards set forth by the Responsible Art Market, both of which attempt to set forth a framework for those in the business of trading art to mitigate their money laundering risks.
Further, and as noted, other traditional vehicles for laundering money have become less attractive, thereby driving those who need a mechanism to launder large sums into the arms of the art world. As we repeatedly have blogged, one of the most time-honored and relatively convenient vehicles for laundering — real estate — is under intense scrutiny and now is subject in the U.S. to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)’s ongoing Geographic Targeting Orders (these require U.S. title insurance companies in many parts of the U.S. to identify the natural persons behind legal entities used in purchases of residential real estate involving $300,000 or more and performed without a bank loan or similar form of external financing).
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.
Good solid provenance almost always increases the value and desirability of a work of art because, first and foremost, it authenticates the art. Good provenance also provides important information about and insight into a work of art's history. Unscrupulous sellers know the value of provenance and sometimes go to great lengths to manufacture or fabricate phony provenance for their art. The good news is that phony provenance is relatively easy to detect in most cases. The following guidelines will help protect you from buying art with fake or questionable provenance:
The most common art scam is for a scammer to make contact with an artist and say that they want to buy some if their artwork that they saw online. To the unwary, hungry artist this is surely great news. What the scammer wants is for the artist to ship the art to them without paying for it. In reality, what they will be doing is that they will be providing the artist with stolen credit card numbers or with phony checks in order to make the art purchase.
The pure fabrication is a kind of forgery that defies classification, often because there is no false attribution and the motives are difficult to ascertain. An example of this is the Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38) of Geoffrey of Monmouth (died 1155), a pseudo-historian who compounded stories from Celtic mythology and classical and biblical sources into a fictitious history of ancient Britain. The book became one of the most popular of the Middle Ages and was the basis for some Arthurian legends recounted in medieval romance and epic.
An expert certification can mean the difference between an object having no value and being worth a fortune. Certifications themselves may be open to question. Jacques van Meegeren forged the work of his father Han van Meegeren (who in his turn had forged the work of Vermeer). Jacques sometimes produced a certificate with his forgeries stating that a work was created by his father.
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.