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.
Art forgery may also be subject to civil sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, has used the FTC Act to combat an array of unfair trade practices in the art market. An FTC Act case was successfully brought against a purveyor of fake Dalí prints in FTC v. Magui Publishers, Inc., who was permanently enjoined from fraudulent activity and ordered to restore their illegal profits. In that case, the defendant had collected millions of dollars from his sale of forged prints.
Many forgeries still escape detection; Han van Meegeren, possibly the most famous forger of the 20th century, used historical canvasses for his Vermeer forgeries and created his own pigments to ensure that they were authentic. He confessed to creating the forgeries only after he was charged with treason, an offense which carried the death penalty. So masterful were his forgeries that van Meegeren was forced to create another "Vermeer" while under police guard, to prove himself innocent of the treason charges.
All the paintings appear to have originated with one man, an obscure French collector-turned-dealer named Giulano Ruffini. The works appear to have had next-to-no provenance, save that they came from the collection of French civil engineer André Borie. Ruffini insists he never suggested they were the real deal, and that eager dealers were the ones to declare his paintings Old Master originals.
Art Businesses should also consider the form of the transaction, such as whether the transaction is taking place through intermediaries, face to face, entirely via the Internet, over the phone, or by any other similar non face to face means. In some circumstances, depending on the nature, value and/or geographic location of the transaction, enhanced due diligence may be appropriate.
Ken Dreifach, head of the Internet Bureau at the New York State Attorney General's office, reported the reoccurring sales of a forged painting. An individual purchased a painting from the Art and Design Center of New York City and brought it to an art expert for appraisal who determined the work was a forgery. The Art and Design Center refunded the money to the purchaser but then sold it to another individual. That person also had it evaluated by an expert who said it was a fake. The Center refunded the money to the second purchaser. Then an undercover investigator from the attorney general's office bought the same painting and the jig was up. The attorney general filed charges and the case was settled against the Center for various monetary charges (Department of Law, 2001).
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.
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.
An art forger must be at least somewhat proficient in the type of art he is trying to imitate. Many forgers were once fledgling artists who tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the market, eventually resorting to forgery. Sometimes, an original item is borrowed or stolen from the owner in order to create a copy. Forgers will then return the copy to the owner, keeping the original for himself. In 1799, a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer which had hung in the Nuremberg Town Hall since the 16th century, was loaned to Abraham Wolfgang Küfner [de]. The painter made a copy of the original and returned the copy in place of the original. The forgery was discovered in 1805, when the original came up for auction and was purchased for the royal collection.
I confess to being wrapped up in the reading of this book and particularly the art of art forgery Shapiro unmasks. I have often wondered why a painting that has hung for hundreds of years on museum walls and been praised for its style and beauty is not just as valuable and just as precious when it is discovered that it was not painted by one of the greats but by his apprentice. Doesn't the art remain the same. Isn't it just as valuable as art even if it was painted by an unknown? We seem to carr ...more
The layout of the book is unconventional, but the material itself is fascinating. This, like the recent movie "Big Eyes" and the works of contemporary artists like Banksy and Koons stimulates the age-old debate of what art "is". Aristotle's definition (pg. 108) seems amazingly accurate over 2,000 years later. Because so much is covered in such a brief manner, it certainly will lead me to more detailed books and primary sources amply provided in Charney's "Selected Bibliography." I find the effects of mass psychology (the willingness to be fooled that greed begets), institutional jealousies, the arrogance of the "connoisseur" class, and the exclusivity of gallerists - all fascinating - and all ample motivation for the revenge of the forgers.
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.
— 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.”
The hardest deception to detect is usually one that has been made recently. The forgery is a product of the time in which it was made, and the forger is closer to current understanding of the artist or period forged. The forgery, therefore, is often more appealing than a genuine work of art. As a forgery ages, viewpoints and tastes shift, and there is a new basis of understanding. Consequently, a forgery rarely survives more than a generation.
There is no comparable entity in the art market. But were the same type of program instituted in the art market, it would only require that the auction house, dealer or lawyer know the beneficial owner and be able to reveal that information to federal authorities. It would not require the other side of the transaction to learn the seller (or buyer’s) identity.
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.
The Rothko even came with a romantic back story. As explained to the De Soles by Ann Freedman, then the highly regarded president of Knoedler & Co. — founded in 1846 and Manhattan’s oldest art gallery — it emerged from the collection of a mysterious Swiss heir. The man’s business-traveling father bought paintings directly from rising art stars of the 1950s. Freedman added that the piece, depicting Mark Rothko’s signature-style rectangles, had gone largely unseen by art-world cognoscenti.