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.
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.
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.
Whether the seller agrees to take full legal responsibility for the accuracy of the provenance is crucial information for buyers in terms of their own due diligence obligations and their ability to rely on information provided by sellers. Making all of this clear in the sales contract is unquestionably in everyone’s interest, even if—much like a prenuptial agreement—it spoils some of the romance associated with the purchase of Fine Art.
Nearly 40 paintings, supposedly created by some of the most important artists of the 20th century, were all fakes, painted by a struggling artist in his garage in Queens. The fraud might still be going on if it weren't for an art historian Jack Flam -- who was the first person to uncover the scheme and blow the whistle to the government, putting the brakes on an $80 million con -- the most audacious and lucrative art fraud in U.S. history.
Adding to the seller’s risk is the fact that a claim for breach of warranty does not depend on proof of seller’s negligence or other culpability. Under UCC § 2-714 (2) “[t]he measure of damages for breach of warranty is the difference at the time and place of acceptance between the value of the goods accepted and the value they would have had if they had been as warranted, unless special circumstances show proximate damages of a different amount.” If the provenance is deemed to be a warranty, and the artwork is less valuable because of an inaccuracy or omission in the provenance, the seller may be liable for that difference in value, regardless of his or her good faith or lack of knowledge of the error in question.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life. As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws. One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” — catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws. Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
As previously noted in this Journal, the legal structure we call art law (an amalgam of personal property law, contract, estate, tax, and intellectual property law) supporting the acquisition, retention, and disposition of Fine Art, often fits uneasily with art market custom and practice. The result is that 21st-century art market participants are frequently unsure of their legal rights and obligations.
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.