The enclosed article was retrieved from the the FBI website (FBI.gov). For starters, it’s refreshing to see that the FBI is taking action against forged artworks, and considers it an area of major interest. As the agent in the article states: “Protecting the integrity of America’s art—in all its forms—is a special priority for the FBI and our dedicated Art Crime Team. “It’s our heritage; it’s who we are. We have to protect it,” McKeogh says. “Fake art and fraud schemes like this damage that heritage.”
As positive as it is to see the FBI getting involved, it saddens me to say that their efforts are unlikely to make a dent in protecting art buyers from forgeries. As a dealer, I see what goes on in the Art World on a daily basis, and it is not pretty. I have always been amazed at the magnitude of forgeries presented to us. Some of them are so good that even experienced dealers and major auction houses are being duped. Forgeries are not confined to just paintings and prints, but sculptures as well.
As an experienced dealer it is usually quite easy to spot a fake, usually because most are poorly executed. However, there are instances when forgeries are so well done that even the most experiences dealers, auction houses and museums cannot distinguish them from the real thing. This is why every work of art, whether you are certain it is genuine or not, needs to be scrutinized. At Ackerman’s we cross out T’s and dot our I’s before purchasing, consigning, or selling any work. As a result, we are sometimes forced to pass on works that may very well turn out to be legitimate. Our motto is: “When in doubt, toss it out.” The last thing we ever want to have happen, is a client coming to us one day claiming we sold them a forgery.
Last month we were presented with a couple of small, but well executed Jean- Michel Basquiat’s works. They both had Certificates of Authenticity supposedly issued from the Basquiat Foundation. Although the Foundation no longer issues certificates, they do verify Certificates and check works in their database. The private individual selling these works seemed to be in a hurry, which is always cause for alarm. We presented the COA’s to the Foundation, and also had a local Basquiat expert look them over. The expert immediately noticed a problem with the certificates, and after two weeks we received the same opinion from the Foundation.
Also very recently, we were presented with a very nice Fernando Botero sculpture, which not only looked right but also had excellent provenance (if you thought it was unlikely that forgeries abound by living artists, think again). The asking price was suspiciously low for what it was, and that raised an immediate red flag. Regardless, we performed our usual due diligence, and low and behold it was a forgery.
Unfortunately, I can go on and on and on. So what can buyers of fine art do to protect themselves? To be honest, there is no full-proof way of guarding against forgeries, however, one can substantially lower their risk by engaging an experienced art advisor and/or consulting recognized experts. Although most major galleries are pretty good at researching works and consulting with experts before offering works for sale, it is never a bad idea to get a second opinion. Also, remember that it is not always enough to have a Certificate of Authenticity accompany a work, because as we have seen these too can be forgeries. COA’s need to be verified as well. Regarding expensive works, it’s always a good idea to check with the Art Loss Registry before purchasing.
I cannot stress enough the importance of using extreme caution when buying art from online marketplaces and online auction houses. Furthermore, be careful not to get a false sense of security when buying from larger auction houses, as many are sloppy regarding due diligence and spotting fakes, and where their main focus is in meeting sales targets. Case in point: In my early collecting days I bought a work from a well-known regional auction house, which was later proven to be a forgery. They would not refund my money, claiming it was past their 30 day refund period. I could have fought them, but the legal costs made walking away a better option. Hence, “always” read the Terms and Conditions, and stay away from any auction house or gallery that severely limits your recourse.
Finally, the FBI article made an important point about attribution: “When marketing his fakes, Spoutz stopped just short of saying the works were authentic. “He tried to give himself an out and said they were ‘attributed to’ an artist,” McKeogh said.” Whenever you see the words “attributed to,” automatically assume that the work is not by the artist whose signature appears on the work.
As I already noted, it is nice to see the FBI taking an interest in art forgery, but there efforts will do little to curb what has become an epidemic. It is often very difficult for them to prosecute guilty parties, and extensive time and other resources are usually necessary. A serious battle against art forgery can only be waged if governments across the globe create stricter laws and penalties, and make it easier to convict offenders.
Read the article
Forging Papers to Sell Fake Art