At any point in a work of art's history, its authenticity can come into question. Often, art is accompanied by documentation, commonly known as provenance, that confirms its authenticity mainly through ownership history. Good provenance (ownership history) leaves no doubt that a work of art is genuine and by the artist who it is stated to be by or whose signature it bears. Unfortunately, numerous forged or otherwise misrepresented works of art are offered for sale with fake or questionable provenance at online auctions, at fixed-price art websites, and at bricks-and-mortar establishments. But nowhere is the proliferation of art with problematic provenance more pervasive than at online auctions.
A monumental sculptural forgery was a copy based on a Greek bronze statuette of a warrior of 470 bc, only five inches high and located in the Antikenabteilung, Berlin. The forgers made an eight-foot-high reproduction of it in terra-cotta and offered it as an Etruscan masterpiece. The resemblance was noted by the experts, who thought it to be an example of an Etruscan artist borrowing a Greek design motif. In 1961, after it had been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 40 years, an analysis was made of the black glaze that covered the figure. It was found that the glaze contained as a colouring agent manganese, which never was used for this purpose in ancient times. Finally, Alfredo Adolfo Fioravanti confessed that he was the sole survivor of the three forgers.
* An appraisal for the art does not constitute valid provenance unless it has been performed by a respected expert or authority on the artist, and states that the art is absolutely by the artist. If you have any questions about an appraisal, contact the appraiser directly before bidding on the art and verify their qualifications to make any statements of authenticity contained within the appraisal. Any appraiser making statements of authenticity would also have to be a nationally or internationally respected authority on the artist in question. When you can't verify the appraiser's credentials, contact the appraiser, the appraisal does not include adequate contact information for the appraiser, or you can't make out the signature, be very careful. Best procedure would be not to bid on or buy the art. (FYI, an appraisal may assume the art is genuine and have statements or disclaimers to that effect, but is not in and of itself an authentication of the art. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE APPRAISAL INCLUDING ANY DISCLAIMERS CAREFULLY. In other words, you may need a separate authentication or provenance to go along with such an appraisal.)
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.
* When a seller states that a work of art is "attributed to" a particular artist, get the name of the person who did the attributing. If that person is not an established and respected expert on the artist, then the attribution is most likely meaningless. Furthermore, an attribution, no matter who makes it, does not constitute valid provenance or proof that the art is by the artist whose signature it bears.
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.”
The fundamental consideration in determining forgery is “intent to deceive.” The act of copying a painting or other work of art is in itself not forgery, nor is the creation of a work “in the style” of a recognized painter, composer, or writer or of a particular historical period. Forgery may be the act not of the creator himself but of the dealer who adds a fraudulent signature or in some way alters the appearance of a painting or manuscript. Restoration of a damaged painting or manuscript, however, is not considered forgery even if the restorer in his work creates a significant part of the total work. Misattributions may result either from honest errors in scholarship—as in the attribution of a work to a well-known artist when the work was in fact done by a painter in his workshop, a pupil, or a later follower—or from a deliberate fraud.
Mr. Ellis serves as Director of Business Development and Marketing of AML RightSource. He has over 15 years of experience in business development, marketing, and professional consulting within the healthcare and financial services industries. Mr. Ellis earned his undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and obtained his juris doctor from Cleveland State University – Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
Recent technology developments have aided collectors in assessing the temperature and humidity history or the wine which are two key components in establishing perfect provenance. For example, there are devices available that rest inside the wood case and can be read through the wood by waving a smartphone equipped with a simple app. These devices track the conditions the case has been exposed to for the duration of the battery life, which can be as long as 15 years, and sends a graph and high/low readings to the smartphone user. This takes the trust issue out of the hands of the owner and gives it to a third party for verification.
On the night of St Patrick's Day in 1990 when the attention of Boston was focused elsewhere, thieves entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with art valued at $500 million, including three Rembrandts, one of only 34 known paintings by Vermeer, and works by Manet and Degas. Because the eccentric Isabella insisted in her will that nothing be changed in the museum (nothing!), the empty frames remain on the walls as a sad reminder of what has been lost.
— The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the amount of illicit money that is laundered each year to be between “2 - 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion - $2 trillion in current US dollars.” The difficulty of knowing exact figures accounts for the huge margin within estimates. The UN’s estimates specifically cite “Mega-Byte” as an issue, defining the term as “money in the form of symbols on computer screens the can move anywhere in the world with speed and ease.”
As for you artists, firmly establishing yourself as link number one in the chain of provenance is essential. These days, proof of authenticity or authorship accompanying a work of art is more important than ever. In order to prevent unscrupulous sellers from trafficking in fakes, and avoid situations where people question your art, keep good records right from the start and provide some form of documentation with every artwork you produce. The last thing you want is people trying to figure out whether or not you actually created certain works, or contacting you with requests to authenticate works that have no accompanying paperwork or documentation. The bad news is that in the long run, repeated incidents surrounding undocumented art can actually compromise your market. So make sure there's never any doubt that ownership of your art begins with you. Read more about how to do that in this article about How to Authenticate Your Art.
In the composite fraud, or pastiche, the forger combines copies of various parts of another artist’s work to form a new composition and adds a few connecting elements of his own to make it a convincing presentation. This type of forgery is more difficult to detect than the copy. Such a combining of various elements from different pieces can be very deceptive, because a creative artist often borrows from his own work. In fact, the similarity of a figure or an object in a forgery to that in a well-known work of art often adds to the believability of the new creation.
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.
While pretty much all art could be scandalized, some are more susceptible to scheming than others. Digital artist Daniel Temkin points out that digital art, which doesn’t need to be shipped or stored because it has no physical manifestation, is particularly ripe for your risky business. To make it easy for you, Temkin has created an "online auction house, offering net art by internationally renowned artists and their impersonators" called NetVVorth. The art experiment/tongue-in-cheek criminal resource hosts a series of counterfeit works created by legitimate net artists. “The collection is offered to expose net art as a viable investment to serious collectors by establishing a shadow market, proving its ability to hide illicit profits and transfer them easily around the globe. All works are supplied with provenance papers. All sales are in Bitcoin. The true counterfeiter is identified only to the owner of the piece.” The collection includes roughly 35 works. Pick your favorite. (And if you hate digital art, like most collectors, you can always hire an art consultant who can help you pick out some “reeeeeal” art.)
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.
Of course, certain countries already impose AML regulations on the art world. The European Union Commission issued its 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive in June 2018, which must be implemented by Member States by January 2020, and which in part expands its coverage of “obliged entities” to persons trading in art, acting as intermediaries in the trade of art, or storing art in freeports, if the value of the transaction or a group of linked transactions equals €10,000 or more. In the United States, although the BSA already applies to dealers in precious metals, stones and jewels, and thereby requires them to file Suspicious Activity Reports and comply with other AML obligations, no such rules currently apply to U.S. dealers in art.
More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.