For museums and the art trade provenance has increasingly important, not just in the older way where establishing the authorship and authenticity of an object was the main concern, but in establishing the moral and legal validity of its chain of custody, given the increasing amount of looted art. This first became a major concern regarding works that had changed hands in Nazi-controlled areas in Europe before and during World War II. Many museums began compiling pre-active registers of such works and their history. Recently the same concerns have come to prominence for works of African art, often exported illegally, and antiquities from many parts of the world, but currently especially in Iraq, and then Syria.
Governments around the world have stepped up their efforts to combat money laundering in recent decades, with regulations that require financial institutions to put systems in place to detect and report suspicious activity. The amount of money involved is substantial: According to a 2018 survey from PwC, global money laundering transactions account for roughly $1 trillion to $2 trillion annually, or some 2% to 5% of global GDP .
One of the more-complicated examples is that of the Getty kouros, an allegedly 6th-century-bce male sculpted figure owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles that has long been suspected of being a modern forgery. The Getty paid a very high price for what it believed may have been the last remaining such figure on the art market only to find that the sculpture had stylistic irregularities that suggested that it could not be authentic. At the same time, scientific tests have not demonstrated that it is of modern origin, and some scholars have argued that stylistic anomalies do not prove that it is a fake. The Getty Villa exhibited the work in its galleries with a label that read: “about 530 bc or modern forgery.” However, the kouros was removed from view when the museum completed a yearlong renovation in 2018, with the director stating that the sculpture was fake.
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Artists have been copying the images and the styles of other artists for thousands of years. Up until around the 16th Century this was a common practice, used to pass down historical, religious and artistic tradition for future generations. Copying the work of others, and particularly the Masters, was a normal part of any artist's academic training. It still is, in major art schools, a normal and required part of an art student's cirriculum.
Within computer science, informatics uses the term "provenance" to mean the lineage of data, as per data provenance, with research in the last decade extending the conceptual model of causality and relation to include processes that act on data and agents that are responsible for those processes. See, for example, the proceedings of the International Provenance Annotation Workshop (IPAW) and Theory and Practice of Provenance (TaPP). Semantic web standards bodies, including the World Wide Web Consortium in 2014, have ratified a standard data model for provenance representation known as PROV which draws from many of the better-known provenance representation systems that preceded it, such as the Proof Markup Language and the Open Provenance Model.
The problem isn’t their argument that seller’s should reveal themselves. It’s the slapdash evidence and flawed logic they use. The story’s biggest problem begins with the lede where it is argued that real estate sellers are transparent. Several graphs deeper in the story it is revealed that real estate transactions that are on a par with major art transactions are, in fact, not transparent. How do we know that? Because the Times tells us about a pilot program that requires transparency. Here’s the opening graph:
A tale of literary forgery that came to light in the early 21st century was that of the celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who confessed in her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2008), that while down on her luck in the 1990s she had forged and sold to collectors hundreds of letters by various notable figures—Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Lillian Hellman among them.
You might have seen his stuff in New York’s Metropolitan Museum or in the Hermitage in Lausanne…to name just a couple. You can also see them in the homes of the one percent. Actor Steve Martin bought this one. Beltracchi’s forgeries have also made it into art books listing the best paintings of the 20th century and have been sold in many of the world’s top auction houses.
There are no accepted estimates on the amounts of money laundered through the art market, although the general belief is that it is enormous and expanding as regulations on other asset classes, from real estate to foreign exchange, tighten up everywhere. The International Monetary Fund estimated that "the amount available for laundering through the financial system" was worth 2.7 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2009 or $1.6-trillion (U.S.).
Some criterion for judging the monetary value for all this art was needed, and the most readily available one was the identity of the artist. First, this took the form of mark on the work, and later a signature. As the demand for fine art far exceeded the supply, misuse of these marks and signatures became rampant. Controlling legislation was enacted as it always is whenever commerce enters the picture, and the formerly respected tradition of copying art became art forgery.
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.
The Wolf of Wall Street was a hit when it was released in 2013. Moviegoers all over the world loved the story of excessive wealth and greed. But most people didn’t know that the movie was partially funded by a money-laundering scheme involving famous works of art. Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, had siphoned part of a $1 billion fortune from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund into American assets, such as real estate and paintings by Basquiat, Rothko, and Van Gogh.
“There are museums in the past who have wanted to take something of high value down and replace it with a replica, but that’s a behind-the-curtain thing,” says Timothy Carpenter, a supervisor and special agent in the FBI’s art theft program who frequently lectures collectors to do the same. “If you’ve got this $10 million painting that you’re concerned about, you can probably afford to make a $5,000 copy made and hang it. It’s the only guarantee to keep their painting safe if they don’t have security on their residence.”
In order to fool inexperienced buyers, unscrupulous sellers often say they have provenance or documented ownership histories that they claim confirms the authenticity of bogus art. In some cases, this concocted provenance appears to date all the way back to the original artists themselves. Before bidding on or buying any art, your job is to make sure any such provenance offered by sellers is correct, legitimate, verifiable and does in fact attest to the authorship of the art. (Problem art may also be accompanied by questionable Certificates of Authenticity. To evaluate a Certificate of Authenticity or COA, read Is Your Certificate of Authenticity Worth the Paper It's Printed On?)
Recently, some countries in Europe, including Luxembourg and Switzerland, have passed laws to clamp down on money laundering in the art market. Starting in 2016, Switzerland will cap cash transactions at 100,000 Swiss francs ($135,000). Payments above that cash limit will have to be made by credit card, creating a paper trail, or the seller will have to carry out due diligence to ensure the legal origins of the funds.
The 2,200 photographs by masters like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen — more than could fit into an 18-wheeler — were paid for, court papers say, with some of the $78 million that the authorities say Mr. Rivkin got from defrauding oil companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil. Mr. Rivkin, who has not been charged with any crimes, was last thought to be in Spain and had arranged to have the photos shipped there.
Eli Sakhia was a respectable art gallery owner in business for 15 years in Manhattan. He sold privately and to auction houses in the United States and abroad. What he failed to tell his private buyers was that they were buying the forgeries and the auction houses were getting the real works. His modus operandi was to purchase originals, sell them to auction houses, and hire artists in the interim to reproduce fakes for sale to his clients. His problems started when a past buyer of a fake tried to sell his forged piece while Sakhia attempted to sell the original to another auction house. The houses brought in an expert who stated that the past buyer's work was a fake. Sakhia was arrested and convicted; he's expected to serve three to four years in prison (Campanile, 2004).
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the issues surrounding works of art that were stolen, looted, displaced, or illegally exchanged during the Nazi era in Europe (1933-1945). After World War II, Allied Forces recovered thousands of artworks and returned them to the countries from which they were taken for restitution to the owners or their heirs. Nevertheless, many paintings, sculptures, and other objects entered the international art market during the Nazi era. Many of these were acquired in good faith by museums and collectors.
Provenance trials, where material of different provenances are planted in a single place or at different locations spanning a range of environmental conditions, is a way to reveal genetic variation among provenances. It also contributes to an understanding of how different provenances respond to various climatic and environmental conditions and can as such contribute with knowledge on how to strategically select provenances for climate change adaptation.
Scientific research is generally held to be of good provenance when it is documented in detail sufficient to allow reproducibility. Scientific workflow systems assist scientists and programmers with tracking their data through all transformations, analyses, and interpretations. Data sets are reliable when the process used to create them are reproducible and analyzable for defects. Current initiatives to effectively manage, share, and reuse ecological data are indicative of the increasing importance of data provenance. Examples of these initiatives are National Science Foundation Datanet projects, DataONE and Data Conservancy, as well as the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Some international academic consortia, such as the Research Data Alliance, have specific group to tackle issues of provenance. In that case it is the Research Data Provenance Interest Group.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mania for classification and study of the past resulted in an upsurge in forgeries as the art market adjusted to accommodate the new interest in the artistic past. That interest in the classification of the past also led to the founding of academic disciplines such as the history of art. The study of art history and the creation of agreed-upon bodies of work for artists and eras, as well as advances in science, made possible in the 20th century the winnowing out of forgeries, fakes, and misattributions from authentic works. As art historians gained more knowledge about the past and the styles, materials, and working conditions of artists and historical epochs, inauthentic and fraudulent works were more readily exposed.