Some of the 20th century’s most important creators set out to undermine ideas of unique, authentic, hand-touched works of art. Precisely 100 years ago, when Marcel Duchamp began presenting store-bought bicycle wheels, urinals and bottle racks as ready-made sculptures, he was also inviting others to buy and show similar masterworks. A half-century later, Andy Warhol was famously freewheeling when it came to notions of authenticity: You could never tell, and weren’t supposed to know, how much if any of a Warhol painting had actually been made by him versus by some acolyte in his art Factory. (In interviews, Warhol would sometimes attribute his works to others even when he’d executed them himself.) The art market can’t stand the slippages such ideas introduce, and insists on selling Warhols and Duchamps the way you’d sell a Lincoln autograph. Forgers, on the other hand, help preserve modern art’s productive uncertainty.
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.
The second essay (Purchase Price Paid Over Time: “Title Does Not Pass Until Payment in Full”) addresses a very common provision in contracts for the sale of art with installment payments. But, surprising to many art sellers, the Uniform Commercial Code probably makes this provision unenforceable, with consequences for the seller getting his art back.
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.
Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense. Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code. Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life. As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws. One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” — catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws. Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
They invented a story that fooled them all. Helene said her grandfather hid his art collection at his country estate in Germany before the war to protect it from the Nazis. When he died, she said, she inherited it. But there was nothing to inherit, because there had never been a collection. Every one of the works had been painted by Wolfgang Beltracchi.
New England Glass Works (American, 1818-1888), Black-Amethyst Sinumbra Lamp, 1830-1835, Translucent dark amethyst glass appearing black, pressed, with patinated copper alloy (brass) fittings and iron alloy lamp mechanism, a blown transparent colorless glass shade, ground and wheel-cut, and a transparent blown glass chimney (replaced), 17 1/2 in., 2016.214.
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."
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.