"Katzen and Sack indicated to the undercover agent that they could resell the paintings overseas as part of the money-laundering scheme," said the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Michael J. Sullivan. The undercover sting investigation, apparently prompted by an informant's tip, was conducted by the U.S. Customs Service and the FBI.
Portrait of a Woman, attributed to Goya (1746-1828). X-ray images taken of this painting in 1954 revealed a portrait of another woman, circa 1790, beneath the surface. X-ray diffraction analysis revealed the presence of zinc white paint, invented after Goya's death. Further analysis revealed that the surface paint was modern and had been applied so as not to obscure the craquelure of the original. After analysis, the conservators left the work as you see it above, with portions of old and new visible, to illustrate the intricacies of art forgery, and the inherent difficulty of detecting it.
In a market depressed and made anxious by fakes, investors and private collectors may start pulling out, leaving more room for museums to buy at prices they can afford, which in turn would be good news for any art lover who depends on our public collections. And, since museums don’t have to think about net worth and reselling (let’s forget the Detroit case for a moment), they can live with the risk of maybe having bought a fake. Their audience might still enjoy and learn from the new “Rothko” in the collection.
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.
↑ Mario Clouds Not Bootleg V1.1 is a variation on Super Mario Clouds by Cory Arcangel. It was made available on the site NetVVorth as part of a collection of "forged" works by iconic digital artists. (Arcangel also offers instructions on his website that allow anyone to create a bootleg version of the piece.) It is still credited to "Cory Arcangel" in an attempt to highlight the ease of forging digital work.
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.