Like so many others, you have inherited a work of art from a relative and have no idea of its value, but for one reason or another you suspect it could be substantial. With little knowledge of art you take to the internet and research, but ultimately you decide that hiring a licensed appraiser makes the most sense. You contact a professional appraisal organization, or maybe you find someone with good credentials on Google or perhaps you get a recommendation from someone. Having found an appraiser, you breathe a sigh of relief thinking you’ve found someone with expertise and integrity. Read on.
At Ackerman’s Fine Art & Advisory, we regularly buy and take on consignment many 19th & 20th Century works, and as a result are contacted daily by people looking to sell or consign their art. Unfortunately, around 50 percent of all the pieces presented to us is fake. The forgeries are usually quite easy to spot, and most have a similar story. Namely, they have little or no provenance, no paperwork (i.e, a gallery receipt or Certificates of Authentication). If they do have a COA, it is by an appraiser, gallery, or museum that has no standing in the art world as the accepted expert for the particular artist in question.
One thing that fake artworks often have is an appraisal from a certified appraiser (some even have insurance certificates from insurance companies). For example, recently we were shown a work of art appraised for $800,000 by a USPAP certified appraiser (considered an appraiser with the highest level of certification an appraiser can have, and recognized as having the highest ethical and performance standards of appraisers in the U.S). The appraisal had pages of information, but the appraiser never addressed the subject of authenticity. The work was a blatant forgery, yet the appraiser was happy to act as if it were authentic, thus deceiving their client and collecting a hefty fee.
Many art appraisers give value to works of art without even knowing (or caring) about authenticity. What’s more, few even attempt to find out. Appraisers are inclined to go on the assumption that a work is authentic, and as such, to collect fees for appraising a forgery. The fact is, that it’s quite easy to determine authenticity. An appraiser has many options: they can contact a gallery that specializes in a particular artists’ works for help; they can find out who the noted expert is and inquire with them; or they can research any existing literature like a catalogue raisonne.
Appraising a work of art before determining its authenticity, is putting the horse before the cart, and unethical. Once authenticity is established, only then should an appraisal be done.
No doubt there are many excellent and ethical appraisers out there who do right by their clients, but there are many who do not. As a result, owners of fine art need to be extremely diligent in selecting an appraiser.
A good art appraiser will tackle the issue of authenticity “before” attempting to determine value. At Ackerman’s we regularly get calls from appraisers seeking help with both authenticity and value. In my mind, these are the best appraisers because they are acting in their clients best interest by reaching out for help, and consulting someone with greater knowledge.
Individuals aren’t the only ones being deceived. Many insurance companies will honor an appraisal by a certified appraiser. An untold number of forgeries and fakes are currently covered under individual and corporate insurance policies. Much like the appraiser that gave the valuation, insurance companies are only too happy to collect premiums on fake art….that is, until a claim is put forth.
Other Issues with Art Appraisals:
Another problem we often see with art appraisals is that they are often inflated, sometimes grossly so. Even when the art is authentic this creates problems. One problem is that the owners of an inflated appraisal have unrealistic expectations about price when it comes time to sell.
At Ackerman’s we see situations where a collector buys a work of art from a gallery and is also given an appraisal by the same gallery. Obviously, this is a conflict of interest and an appraisal should have been done by a third party. In these situations, the gallery in question has often overcharged for a work. My advice: Before buying art of any substantial value, consult with a professional art advisor. They will help confirm authenticity, tell you if you’re overpaying, and if needed, help to negotiate a better price.
In conclusion, be weary of appraisers charging hefty fees for useless information. As a group, they collectively earn millions of dollars each year for incorrect and useless information. Do your homework on the person you hire, and ask a lot of questions first.