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.
However, even this careful process can be faked by those knowledgeable enough. In our collector's reading list, we feature a book called Provenance that examines how two people were able to sell forged art at the highest levels. Their documentation for the inauthentic pieces they sold was so expertly faked that more obvious flaws in the pieces themselves were overlooked.
Vilas Likhite, a Los Angeles doctor, was said to have owned a multimillion-dollar art collection inherited from an Indian maharajah. His collected works included the names of Brancusi, Lichtenstein, Chagall, Casatt, and others. The pieces he collected were best described as "museum quality." At times, he could be persuaded to sell some of these works to trusted friends for exceptionally low prices. However, a recent sale of a Casatt proved to be his downfall when he sold it to an undercover police detective who specialized in art fraud. All of Likhite's carefully documented works, some presented in a three-ring binder, were fakes.
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.
Further complicating matters, following Man Ray's death, control of printing copyrights fell to his widow, Juliet Man Ray, and her brother, who approved production of a large number of prints that Man Ray himself had earlier rejected. While these reprints are of limited value, the originals, printed during Man Ray's lifetime, have skyrocketed in value, leading many forgers to alter the reprints, so that they appear to be original.
The history of the arts reveals instances of persons who have used forgery either to gain recognition of their own craftsmanship or to enjoy deceiving the critics who had rejected their genuine work. A legend told about Michelangelo illustrates this point. At the age of 21, he carved in marble a small sleeping Eros, or Cupid, based on ancient Roman works that he admired. Some time later this carving was sold as an antique to the well-known collector Cardinal Riario, who prized it highly. When Michelangelo stepped forward and claimed the work as his own he won immediate fame as a young man who could rival the work of the greatly venerated ancient sculptors.
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.
Stories of art and money laundering tend to be media friendly, and often involve the wealthy behaving poorly. In one notorious case, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) seized, via a civil forfeiture action, Jean Michel Basquiat’s 1981 painting, Hannibal. This work — later returned to Brazil by the DOJ — had been smuggled into the U.S. by Edemar Cid Ferreira, a former Brazilian banker who was convicted of money laundering and other offenses, and who allegedly converted some of his laundered proceeds into a significant art collection. According to the DOJ, although Hannibal had been appraised at a value of $8 million, it had been smuggled by Ferreira into the U.S. from Brazil, via the Netherlands, with false shipping invoices stating that the contents of the shipment were worth $100. Other stories provide less genteel tales of drug cartels, terrorist organizations and other criminal syndicates financing themselves through systemic looting and the illicit antiquities trade.
Jack Flam should know. He is one of the world's top experts in Robert Motherwell and was friends with the artist for years. Robert Motherwell was the youngest of a group of famous American painters that included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, who pioneered a new style of American art known as abstract expressionism. After Robert Motherwell's death, Jack Flam became president of the foundation dedicated to his work, and was assembling a catalogue of all of Motherwell's paintings - what's known as a catalogue raisonne.
Data provenance covers the provenance of computerized data. There are two main aspects of data provenance: ownership of the data and data usage. Ownership will tell the user who is responsible for the source of the data, ideally including information on the originator of the data. Data usage gives details regarding how the data has been used and modified and often includes information on how to cite the data source or sources. Data provenance is of particular concern with electronic data, as data sets are often modified and copied without proper citation or acknowledgement of the originating data set. Databases make it easy to select specific information from data sets and merge this data with other data sources without any documentation of how the data was obtained or how it was modified from the original data set or sets. The automated analysis of data provenance graphs has been described as a mean to verify compliance with regulations regarding data usage such as introduced by the EU GDPR.
In June, antiques dealers Laurent Kraemer, head of Paris’s venerable Kraemer Gallery, and chair specialist Bill Pallot, were arrested on suspicion of selling the Palace of Versailles four counterfeit medallion back chairs for €1.7 million ($1.9 million). Counted as “National Treasures,” the chairs were thought to be among a group of 13 created by Louis Delanois for the Palace living room in 1769, where they belonged to Louis XV’s last mistress, the countess du Barry.
Art history is rife with high profile scams, such as that of Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned painter who developed a complicated system of baking his Old Master-style work to age it, and subsequently sold $60 million in fake Vermeers to world class museums and Nazi leader Hermann Göring during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (While current art historians are quick to slam his work as obviously inferior, Van Meegeren actually had to paint a “new” Vermeer at trial to prove he had not sold the Nazis a priceless original.)
Forgery, in art, a work of literature, painting, sculpture, or objet d’art that purports to be the work of someone other than its true maker. The range of forgeries extends from misrepresentation of a genuine work of art to the outright counterfeiting of a work or style of an artist. Forgery must be distinguished from copies produced with no intent to deceive.
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.
Finally, under Guideline 6, the AML Guidelines provides that art businesses must maintain adequate records of their due diligence efforts. Perhaps stating the obvious, but perhaps also implicitly acknowledging the existence of practices by certain dealers, the AML Guidelines observe that “[a]ll documents issued by an Art Business in connection with a transaction (e.g. valuations, sale and purchase agreements, invoices, shipping documents, import / export declarations etc.) should be true, accurate and contemporaneous and represent the honestly held professional opinions of the Art Business.” Likewise, dealers “should refuse all requests from clients to alter, back date, falsify or otherwise provide incomplete or misleading documentation or information relating to a transaction. If there are legitimate reasons for altering a document (e.g. invoicing error etc.) the circumstances and justification should be fully documented and retained on file for future reference and audit.”
The ownership history of a work of art is of fundamental importance for all those involved in the collecting, exhibiting and study of art, for determining both attribution as well as legal title. Recent ownership claims by heirs of Holocaust victims whose art works were looted or otherwise misappropriated during the Nazi-era, and also claims by foreign “source” countries for objects they believe were exported in violation of patrimony or export laws, underscore the importance of provenance research.
Once purchased, the art can disappear from view for years, even decades. A lot of the art bought at auctions goes to freeports – ultra-secure warehouses for the collections of millionaires and billionaires, ranging from Picassos and gold to vintage Ferraris and fine wine. The freeports, which exist in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore, offer a variety of tax advantages because the goods stored in them are technically in transit. The Economist magazine reported that the freeport near the Geneva airport alone is thought to hold $100 billion (U.S.) of art.
The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) offers a professional designation known as a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS). Individuals who earn CAMS certification may work as brokerage compliance managers, Bank Secrecy Act officers, financial intelligence unit managers, surveillance analysts and financial crimes investigative analysts.
French artist Orlan sued American pop star Lady Gaga for forgery after the release of the 2011 hit video “Born This Way,” but ultimately lost her case. Orlan pointed out similarities to her piece Bumpload (1989), in which she added prosthetic ridges to her face, and Woman With Head (1996), which featured a decapitated head on a table. After losing her $31.7 million lawsuit, Orlan was ordered to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000)
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.