It has sadly become a frequent occurrence to read about an art dealer being arrested for selling fake artworks. Fraud cases in the widely covered case against Knoedler Gallery are just beginning to be settled. As a collector, you may wonder how you know who to trust and how do you protect yourself. A forgery can, and has, fooled the best experts. Often a fake work of art can be part of a private collection for generations and have a good story to make the work seem genuine. There is a lot more to authenticating a work then a great story.
Knowing which artists are most often faked is helpful and should be a red flag before purchasing that due diligence will be required. Some artists that have many fake works in the market include Renoir, Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Matisse, Giacometti, Pollack, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Marino Marini. Old Master works are notorious for forgery. No artist that is highly prized by collectors is immune. The Knoedler case involved fake Abstract Expressionists.
Most art dealers will do their best to avoid offering fake artworks to their clients. Others as we have seen lately did it knowingly. A good dealer should have detailed provenance information and documentation to back it up. Since documentation can also be forged or it sometimes simply does not exist, a current third party authentication is good for peace of mind. Ackerman’s Fine Art always has a piece authenticated by the most recognized authorities before offering it for sale. As a collector, you must ask the right questions and try to be objective.
Key questions to ask to help prove authenticity.
- Is a work included in a catalogue raisonné and if not, has it been reviewed and rejected?
- Can provenance be proved?
- Has the piece gone through a gallery known to have sold forgeries?
- If exhibited, is the piece in an exhibition catalogue?
- Which experts have authenticated the piece?
- Has forensic analysis been done?
- Is the piece priced correctly for an authentic work?
It is not difficult to fabricate a compelling provenance. Do not be drawn in by an interesting story with no way to prove it is true, especially if there is no other evidence that a piece is genuine. If anything seems not quite right, always get a second opinion from someone else that is knowledgeable about the artist and their work. Also do not think you are getting a great deal on an original artwork if the price seems too low. An honest dealer would have it honestly priced. Finding a bargain is a red flag that something is not right.
If you are considering purchasing a work of art from a dealer you do not know well, see if they are a member of a gallery association that holds them to a code of ethics. Ask other collectors about their experience and do a little online research to see if the gallery has had problems in the past.
It is important that you train your eye to the artist’s works. Visiting museums and looking at as much art by an artist as you can may help you detect if a piece has subtle stylistic differences. Be sure to educate yourself on both early and more mature works. If you are making a significant investment on a piece, getting your own forensic analysis may be well worth your time and less costly then a lawsuit down the road.
Forgers have been around for centuries and will continue to fool art connoisseurs because there is big money to be made. A study done last year by Swiss art-research lab claimed that more than 70 percent of the artworks they checked out were either fakes, forgeries, or misattributions. Other estimates claim that around 50 percent of the art on the market are forgeries. Unfortunately, there is no single, surefire way to completely avoid buying a forgery. You can protect yourself better by not purchasing on impulse or being taken in by a great provenance story without doing the necessary research first. Always do your homework and get multiple opinions from industry experts.