* FIRST AND FOREMOST: NEVER BID ON OR BUY ART WITHOUT SEEING THE PROVENANCE FIRST. Sellers may say they have provenance, but will only show or give it to winning bidders or buyers after they purchase the art. Other common excuses for not showing provenance include protecting the privacy of the previous owners, keeping bidders from contacting previous owners, or keeping it private. In most cases, the real reason for not showing the provenance is that it's questionable in nature or worse yet, it doesn't even exist. If the seller won't let you see it up front, don't bid and don't buy. Period.
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.
When addressing the KYC procedures under Guideline 3, the AML Guidelines explain that establishing a client’s risk profile will require an art business to obtain information on the client; understand the purpose and intended nature of the transaction; and understand the client’s source of wealth and how they acquired their art collection. The AML Guidelines also stress the need to identify beneficial ownership, “even if the contracting client raises confidentiality concerns,” and note that the art business “may also choose to include appropriate warranties and representations in their agreements with their clients to emphasise the importance of this point.” Further, art businesses should peform due diligence on intermediaries, such as art advisors or brokers, acting for one of the parties to a transaction.
In the early 2000s, Brazilian financier Edmar Cid Ferreira had embezzled funds from his business empire — and he needed a way to hide the money. He found it in Hannibal, a painting by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Appraised by the art world at $8 million, Ferreira showed up at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2007 with the painting and a bill of lading listing the value as $100.
The United States passed the Banking Secrecy Act in 1970, requiring financial institutions to report certain transactions to the Department of the Treasury, such as cash transactions above $10,000 or any others they deem suspicious, on a suspicious activity report (SAR). The information the banks provide to the Treasury Department is used by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which can share it with domestic criminal investigators, international bodies or foreign financial intelligence units.
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.
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).
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.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mania for classification and study of the past resulted in an upsurge in forgeries as the art market adjusted to accommodate the new interest in the artistic past. That interest in the classification of the past also led to the founding of academic disciplines such as the history of art. The study of art history and the creation of agreed-upon bodies of work for artists and eras, as well as advances in science, made possible in the 20th century the winnowing out of forgeries, fakes, and misattributions from authentic works. As art historians gained more knowledge about the past and the styles, materials, and working conditions of artists and historical epochs, inauthentic and fraudulent works were more readily exposed.