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.
Nevertheless, a forgery may pretend to be no more than a copy of a genuine original. It then becomes necessary to examine the language and style in which it is written and to look for anachronisms or for statements that conflict with known authorities. This is the method of textual criticism brilliantly employed by Richard Bentley in his Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699), which proved that these letters, far from being written by Phalaris (a Sicilian tyrant of the 6th century bc), were in fact the work of a Greek sophist of the 2nd century ad.
Seed provenance refers to the specified area in which plants that produced seed are located or were derived. Local provenancing is a position maintained by ecologists that suggests that only seeds of local provenance should be planted in a particular area. However, this view depends on the adaptationist program – a view that populations are universally locally adapted. It is maintained that local seed is best adapted to local conditions, and that outbreeding depression will be avoided. Evolutionary biologists suggest that strict adherence to provenance collecting is not a wise decision because:
* An illustration of the art taken from an old auction catalog without the accompanying description does not constitute valid provenance unless the auction house is or was able to demonstrate beyond doubt that the art was by the artist in question. For example, the auction house may have sold it as "attributed" to the artist. Again, get a copy of the actual auction catalog or read the full listing online to see how the art was described and represented.
John Drewe was able to pass off as genuine paintings, a large number of forgeries that would have easily been recognised as such by scientific examination. He established an impressive (but false) provenance and because of this galleries and dealers accepted the paintings as genuine. He created this false provenance by forging letters and other documents, including false entries in earlier exhibition catalogues.
Like most laundering cases involving art in the United States, this one was uncovered when the work was illegally transported into the country. In 2004 Mr. Ferreira’s financial empire, built partly on embezzled funds, collapsed, leaving $1 billion in debts. A court in São Paulo sentenced him in 2006 to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, a conviction he is appealing. Before his arrest, however, more than $30 million of art owned by Mr. Ferreira and his wife, Márcia, was smuggled out of Brazil, Judge De Sanctis said.
James Martin’s expert report shows the signatures from four Knoedler paintings that were purported Jackson Pollocks. The top two signatures are quite similar. The bottom right signature shows signs that the name was first traced onto the canvas using a sharp tool, and is very similar to the signature on the bottom left, which is misspelled “Pollok.” Courtesy of James Martin.
A newly discovered type of art inevitably brings on a flood of forgeries. At the end of the 19th century, when the first small, attractive Tanagra figurines were found in Greece, the market very shortly was flooded with a myriad of fraudulent Tanagra terra-cotta statuettes. In the mid-20th century, African primitive art became very popular, and woodcarvers from Italy to Scandinavia responded to supply the demand. Later, a very early civilization was discovered in Turkey, and the few genuine Anatolian ceramic pieces that appeared on the market were followed immediately by very competent forgeries apparently made in the same location as the ancient pieces. The lack of knowledge about genuine pieces made detection extremely difficult.
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Besides that, there are other ways which an expensive art piece may be used to launder money. The underlying principle is this: there is no "standard answer" on how to launder money. Money laundering is more like an art than a science. As long as the whole process looks logical, reasonable and realistic, it is up to your creativity how you want to launder money with it!
The art world was quick to fall in line, with London’s National Gallery displaying the Gentileschi and the Pamigianino popping up at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. At one point, the Louvre in Paris launched a fundraising campaign to buy the Hals, dubbing it a “national treasure” after it was authenticated by France’s Center for Research and Restoration.
Interpol also tracks art smuggling. City police forces may have units that investigate cases of art fraud on the local level. But the first, and in many cases only, line of defense against art fraud is the dealers who offer the works for sale and the museums and collectors who must make every effort to determine the authenticity and legality of the works before purchase.
The Dutch forger Han van Meegeren employed a combined composite and stylistic procedure when he created seven paintings between 1936 and 1942 based on the work of Johannes Vermeer. In The Supper at Emmaus he combined figures, heads, hands, plates, and a wine jar from various early genuine Vermeers; it was hailed as a masterpiece and the earliest known Vermeer. Ironically, van Meegeren never was detected as a forger. At the end of World War II he was arrested for having sold a painting attributed to Vermeer to one of the enemy and was accused of being a collaborator. He chose to reveal himself as a forger, which was a lesser offense, and proved his confession by painting another “Vermeer” under the eye of the authorities.
In the end, maybe this guide was never intended for amoral businessmen in the first place (unless we’ve sorely misjudged our readership!) Maybe this it's more useful to the emerging artists who look for validation (read: dollar signs) in a competitive market. Maybe the artist’s secret to success is appealing to the corrupt and becoming an accomplice to white collar crime (but hopefully not). Are economic criminals the driving force of the art economy? Probably not, but what we do know for certain is that art isn’t only valuable as the evidence of creative genius. It is, to many, a vault.