As with other members of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is making a concerted effort to research Nazi-era provenance for the paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, Judaica and works on paper in its collection to determine past ownership and, if necessary, to make proper restitution to the owners or the heirs. Following the standards and guidelines issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and AAM, the Museum is currently conducting research on works of art in its collection that were created before 1946 and acquired by the Museum after 1932* that changed hands, or might have changed hands, in continental Europe between 1933 and 1945, and/or could have been spoliated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted to their rightful owners. In accordance with AAM and AAMD standards and guidelines, the Museum is prioritizing research on European paintings, sculpture, drawings and Judaica, though research will eventually cover all accessioned objects identified as containing Nazi-era provenance.
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.
An essay by Alexander Nagel, a professor of Renaissance art at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, argues that “forgery” is a concept that barely existed in Western art before around 1500, when the art market was invented and a new cast of players who came to be known as “dealers,” “collectors,” “connoisseurs” — and forgers — was born. Before that moment a copy could stand in perfectly well for an earlier work of art, so long as it transmitted the same “essential content,” as Mr. Nagel puts it, and could fill the same religious or commemorative functions. When a great Byzantine icon was copied, the new version was felt to have the same relationship to its divine subject as the older one, and so could do the same cultural work. What would it mean to “forge” a picture, in a world where originals and copies could be interchanged?
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.
Rapid and dramatic rises—and collapses—in price are bad things for money laundering whose sole purpose is to find a relatively stable vehicle to mask the source of funds. Money launderers are not looking to make a profit on their purchases let alone a killing. In fact, a money launderer is willing to take a loss on the vehicle that hides the illicit source of the funds because that is the price of washing the money. If a money launderer buys something with dirty money that has the potential to be unsalable for clean money, it doesn’t work. Art, even some of the world’s best art, is often temporarily unsalable for a variety of real and legitimate reasons.
At $8.3 million, it was the most expensive painting that the De Soles — the chairman of Tom Ford International and his socialite wife — had ever purchased, but they were getting what one source calls “a pretty sweet deal.” Weeks before the sale closed, a work by Rothko sold for $17,368,000 at Sotheby’s. Knoedler drew up a warranty of “authenticity and good value,” and the De Soles proudly hung Rothko’s “Untitled 1956” inside their luxurious Hilton Head, SC, home.
Among the forgers who have tried to make the experts look foolish is George Psalmanazar (1679?–1763). A Frenchman, he went to England where he pretended, with great success, to be a native of Formosa (Taiwan), and published a book about that island, which he had never visited. Another is William Lauder, who attempted to prove John Milton guilty of plagiarism by quoting 17th-century poets who wrote in Latin, into whose works he had interpolated Latin translations from Paradise Lost. A forgery made as a joke but taken seriously was the “Ern Malley” poems, offered to an Australian magazine in 1944 as the work of a recently dead poet. Actually it was composed by two young soldiers who wished to ridicule certain aspects of contemporary poetry.
As the trial nears, a few facts are certain. Rosales sold fraudulent art; after pleading guilty to nine counts that include wire fraud and money laundering, she agreed to cooperate in the investigation and is awaiting sentencing. Her boyfriend Bergantiños was arrested in Spain and remains there. Pei-Shen, who brilliantly forged work by the most lauded artists of the 20th century, is on the loose and untouchable somewhere in China.
Prosecution is also possible under state criminal laws, such as prohibitions against criminal fraud, or against the simulation of personal signatures. However, in order to trigger criminal liability under states' laws, the government must prove that the defendant had intent to defraud. The evidentiary burden, as in all criminal prosecutions, is high; proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" is required.
If the BSA is extended to apply to dealers in art and antinquities, FinCEN can expect a robust notice and comment period for the implementing regulations. Further, when proposing such regulations, FinCEN might draw upon some existing AML guidelines for the art trade, including those from two not-for-profit groups — one independent, the other supported by industry. We explore those guidelines in the rest of this post.
The Chinese art market, where regulation is lax, is thought to be particularly prone to money laundering. "The [Chinese] art market has become more and more abnormal," Wang Shouzhi, dean of the Cheung Kong School of Art and Design at Shantou University, told the South China Morning Post in April. "It is saturated with business tricks, fake works and fake prices. … It has become a tool for corruption and money laundering."
Even as far back as ancient Rome, Mr. Nagel shows, it was considered utterly normal to copy the Greek statues of Praxiteles or Polyclitus, even while altering them. Patrons wanted access to the larger aesthetic ideas and ideals of their artistic geniuses; they didn’t think of works of art “as singularities, as unrepeatable performances by an author,” as Mr. Nagel puts it.
The scientific examination of a forged document may demonstrate its spurious character by showing that the parchment, paper, or ink cannot belong to the period to which they pretend. A skillful forger takes care, however, to secure appropriate materials; and in any case, scientific examination will not avail against the contemporary forger, living in the same age as his victim. Accordingly, other tests must be employed.
It is important to note that objects identified as containing a Nazi-era provenance are not assumed to have been looted during the Nazi era or to have been acquired illegally. Rather, by making this information available to the public, the Nelson-Atkins provides an opportunity for additional information to be made available and fulfills its mission to steward responsibly the collections in its care.
Federal investigators don't know exactly how much Pei-Shen Qian made on the scheme, but it was at least $65,000. He fled to China and was later indicted. In an interview with Bloomberg News three years ago, the forger explained he began painting in Shanghai, and moved to the U.S. in the 1980s. He insisted he never intended to pass his paintings off as anything other than imitations and found it incredible that anyone had taken the paintings seriously.
Particularly notorious was the case of the Wise forgeries. Thomas James Wise (1859–1937) had the reputation of being one of the most distinguished private book collectors on either side of the Atlantic, and his Ashley Library in London became a place of pilgrimage for scholars from Europe and the United States. He constantly exposed piracies and forgeries and always denied that he was a dealer. The shock was accordingly the greater in 1934 when John W. Carter and Henry Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, proving that about 40 or 50 of these, commanding high prices, were forgeries, and that all could be traced to Wise. Subsequent research confirmed the finding of Carter and Pollard and indicted Wise for other and more serious offenses, including the sophistication of many of his own copies of early printed books with leaves stolen from copies in the British Museum.
When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.
Glafira Rosales, an obscure Long Island art dealer, her boyfriend, and his brother enlisted Pei-Shen Qian, a Chinese artist in Queens, to paint Abstract Expressionist canvases in the style of such masters as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and others. The venerable Knoedler gallery, which closed in 2011 as the forgeries came to light, still claims they believed Rosales’s story that the works were part of an undocumented collection sold directly by the artists to an anonymous “Mr. X.”
Another area of art fraud motivated by the demands of the art market involves the smuggling of works of art out of countries, especially from developing countries, where the value of the work may be poorly understood. Though smuggling is in itself a crime, art fraud may also occur when the smugglers minimize the value of the art to guardians of cultural patrimony or to customs officials. Goods thus transported are often offered elsewhere for high prices. There are sanctions against museums that buy artworks obtained in that manner, but governments of the originating country have little recourse when the objects disappear into private collections.