Home | Industry | Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art
Industry

Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art

Forgery

Today’s global art market is a billion-dollar business, with savvy collectors making investments in emerging and established artists for enormous profits. Though it may not be as volatile as investing in the stock market, it’s not without its risks: Authenticating artworks is becoming increasingly complex, and the amount of forged works circulating in the market is frighteningly high. It’s estimated that as much as 40% of the works sold every year are forgeries.

There have been several highly publicized instances where a work has been revealed a forgery in the last year. Jorge Perez, a Miami real estate developer aptly dubbed the “Donald Trump of the tropics” made quite a splash when he donated $35 million in cash and art to build Miami’s new flagship museum, the Perez Art Museum Miami. Most of the works donated were early pieces from established Latin American artists, like Wifredo Lam, Antonio Berni, and Xul Solar. Just a few months after the museum opened, however, it was revealed that another donation made my Mr. Perez contained a forged artwork. Miami’s Frost Art Museum declared that a work by Cuban artist Carlos Alfonzo, which had been gifted to the museum by Mr. Perez, was, in fact, a forgery. It called into question the entirety of the collection gifted to the developer’s namesake museum.

forgery
Pérez Art Museum Miami

Perez stated he was “shocked” to discover that the work had been a forgery, claiming that none of the visitors to his home, nor many leading art experts well acquainted with the artist, ever noticed anything amiss about the painting in the 16 years that it hung there. But what steps could Mr. Perez have taken to ensure the work he purchased was authentic? If a collector purchases a work and it’s later revealed that it’s a forgery, can the collector take legal action against the seller? What if the seller was duped too?

Authenticating Artworks

When purchasing an artwork, a collector should rely on the advice of art experts. In New York, auction houses and galleries are required to certify the works they sell as authentic, normally based on a consensus of experts in the specific field. What makes someone an ‘expert’ varies in different countries – in most cases, academics with degrees from well-reputed schools that have published in the field are generally regarded as experts, as well as persons employed by art auction houses.

It’s important to note that a certificate of authenticity does not make a work authentic unless it’s got the proper documentation to back it up. Art experts use several different methods to authenticate artworks, the most important and common being provenance, or the documented ownership history. Establishing provenance can be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • A signed certificate or statement of authenticity from a respected authority or expert on the artist.

  • An exhibition or gallery sticker attached to the art.

  • A statement, either verbal or written, from the artist.

  • An original gallery sales receipt or receipt directly from the artist.

  • A film or recording of the artist talking about the art.

  • An appraisal from a recognized authority or expert on the artist.

  • Names of previous owners of the art.

  • Letters or papers from recognized experts or authorities discussing the art.

  • Newspaper or magazine articles mentioning or illustrating the art.

  • A mention or illustration of the art in a book or exhibit catalog.

  • Verbal information related by someone familiar with the art or who knows the artist and who is qualified to speak authoritatively about the art.

If provenance is firmly established by an authorized expert or auction house, then the work is likely authentic, and further analysis is not needed, although there are disagreements (See Appraising the Old Masters – The $15 million Caravaggio Disagreement.) In the absence of provenance, there are other methods to prove a work’s authenticity, which revolve around technological and scientific analyzes. A conservation and technology report, for example, determines the present condition of the artwork, the history of any intervention concerning the condition, and what alterations have been made. This type of analysis is particularly helpful for old masterpieces since many of the above-mentioned grounds for provenance are impossible to trace beyond a certain time frame.

Though a conservation and technology report can make a sound judgment concerning an artwork, it’s a far wiser decision only to purchase artworks that have established provenance. But are there any risks for art experts who determine provenance and certify authenticity?

The difficulty for art authenticators in today’s market

Finding someone to authenticate your work is becoming increasingly difficult, as many art experts and authenticators are concerned with the threat of litigation. It’s not uncommon for buyers when faced with the realization that they purchased a forged work of art despite certified authenticity, to sue the sellers or gallerists that warranted the sale. But resolving these disputes isn’t always easy. In many instances, courts will side with authenticators if it can’t be proven that the authenticator intentionally certified a fake.

Authenticating Art
SAN FRANCISCO – JANUARY 25: Set of Six Self-Portraits, Andy Warhol, 1967, painting | oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. Taken January 25, 2010, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in California.

In response to a plethora of litigation, many art experts and art authentication committees have altogether stopped giving opinions on works of art, citing the risk of litigation and its accompanying costs far too great to support the risk. But an expert opinion on the legitimacy of an artwork is crucial to the art business, and a boycott by experts and committees would amount to a bonified crisis in this lucrative business. If art experts and authentication committees refuse to give opinions on the validity of works, it’s extremely likely that forgeries will become even more prevalent in the industry.

Despite the dangers, many authentication committees have disbanded to avoid excessive litigation costs. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, the Keith Haring Foundation and the Noguchi Museum have all stopped authenticating works to avoid litigation. Others have taken increased precautions by imposing contract terms to avoid any liability when authenticating works. For example, many committees’ contracts include clauses that prohibit the collector from suing a committee if they ultimately reject the work’s authenticity. Since a work rejected by a committee typically has no commercial value, a buyer is left with virtually no avenues for recourse whether his work is authenticated or not. In this case, should a buyer sign a contract with this clause contained, he likely won’t have the option to sue even if the work later proves to be forged.

Recognizing that a lack of art authentication can have serious repercussions for the art market, New York’s legislators have taken some steps to ensure the protection of authenticators and committees. An addition to New York’s Art and Cultural Affairs Law proposed in March 2014 helps to protect authenticators from frivolous claims. A plaintiff suing an authenticator would need to specify the facts supporting each part of each claim and prove the claim by clear and convincing evidence, while the authenticator could recover legal fees if successful in defending the claim. While the adoption of this bill would certainly add a layer of protection for art experts in verifying works, it would also make it much more difficult for buyers to seek recourse should they be sold a forgery. That creates a troubling risk for collectors, which could have its own serious effects on sales of artworks.

Are you an art collector? Does the lack of certainty in authenticating art make you nervous about buying art? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a writer and law school graduate with a dedicated focus and passion for the arts, and a particular interest in Latin American art and history. Nicole has extensive experience working with art galleries and museums in Buenos Aires and Miami, and explores cultural landscapes across the Americas through her writing.

You can e-mail Nicole at [email protected]

3 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • My mother in law bought two fake works from two different auctioneers . What’s the best way to denounce this? The works are crude forgeries. She is totally innocent and paid 2500 dollars for each.

    • That’s terrible and a tough question to answer. The problem isn’t so much the act, as much as it is what you can get. Her damages total $5000 which is all she is entitled to receive. The cost of litigation wouldn’t make it viable. You can attack them through social media, but you have to be sure they are fakes. You don’t wasn’t to be hit with a slander lawsuit, but a perfect defense for slander is that you told the truth. Still, you might have to defend yourself and that also costs money. Sadly, I believe some people use this to commit egregious acts, knowing that the repercussions are minimal.

  • Well done!

    Among the countless lucrative methods by which forgeries are sold is an artist vouching for the authenticity of his/her work which the artist well knows was created by some one else. Often that “someone else” is dead. Several well known artists have passed off the works of students or others purportedly “under their supervision” as being works created solely by the artist. Add to that the number of artists whose limited editions comprised of X number of ie fine art photos, were in reality unlimited editions numbering 2 or 3 times X, With full knowledge and an intent to defraud, there are artists, photographers, printers and others who knowingly vouch to a number they know to be false. In many of these cases there is simply no way that a buyer could determine with certainty that he/she had purchased one of only say, 49 fine art photos.

    An uber famous artist/photographer was “caught” selling three prints, each plainly identified as number “17” of a limited edition of 20. Years after his purchase one buyer who resided in the USA happened to have a son marry into the family of another owner of “number 17” who resided in Australia. The father of the bride was similarly a proud owner of a “17”. What are the odds?

The Latest From Artrepreneur

  • Immigrant Artist Jan Sawka, Global Icon

    Jan Sawka is an immigrant artist who migrated to the United States from Poland in the 1970s. Here Hanna Sawka discusses her father's work.The post Immigrant Artist Jan Sawka, Global Icon appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Artist Bang Geul Han on Feminist Art

    Artist Bang Geul Han discusses Electronic Integrated Art, major influences and the trouble with being an interdisciplinary artist.The post Artist Bang Geul Han on Feminist Art appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • An Interview with Debi Cornwall

    Photographer Debi Cornwall talks about being a civil rights attorney, CFEVA, and how she got started with photography.The post An Interview with Debi Cornwall appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • We’re Still Feeling These Three Clio-Winning Ad Campaigns

    In preparation for the 2018 Clio Awards, we take a look back at the winning ad campaigns of the last three years and what made them so successful.The post We’re Still Feeling These Three Clio-Winning Ad Campaigns appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Artists Have Responded to the Me Too Movement

    The Me Too movement has had profound effects across all forms of media and has inspired countless male and female artists.The post How Artists Have Responded to the Me Too Movement appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • An Interview With Syd Carpenter

    Sculptor Syd Carpenter on working as an ornamental gardener, Fellowship programs and the challenges of being a Philadelphia artist.The post An Interview With Syd Carpenter appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Mastering Your Pitch Presentation

    Your best ideas are only as good as how well you can sell them, and mastering the art of the pitch presentation takes time, research, and devotion.The post Mastering Your Pitch Presentation appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How to Land Top Freelance Gigs

    From cementing your personal branding to building a digital portfolio highlighting your best work, here's how you land the top freelance gigs available.The post How to Land Top Freelance Gigs appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Bill Carroll: Career Advice from the Artist, Professor & EFA Studios Director

    Pratt Institute professor and EFA director Bill Carroll talks about his career trajectory, lessons from the art market, and the fundamental shifts he's made in the pursuit of his art.The post Bill Carroll: Career Advice from the Artist, Professor […]

  • Develop an Art Catalog, Sell More Work

    From keeping an art archive to keep your studio organized to developing a sleek art catalog for sales, artists should incorporate an organizational routine if they're looking to grow their business.The post Develop an Art Catalog, Sell More Work […]

  • How to Create the Perfect Pitch Deck

    When preparing to present your services to a potential client, what should go into your pitch deck? From services offered to payment schedules, here's how to create a deck that lands the gig.The post How to Create the Perfect Pitch Deck appeared […]

  • How Museum Hotels Like 21c Serve Art to Their Local Communities

    Museum hotels like 21c are finding new ways to engage with their local art communities. Here's how artists can work collaboratively with this innovative new concept.The post How Museum Hotels Like 21c Serve Art to Their Local Communities appeared […]

  • How to Host a Meetup for Local Artists

    Organizing an art meetup is an excellent way to build community. We sit down with the founders of successful initiatives like the Portland Artist Network and the Rural America Contemporary Art Group.The post How to Host a Meetup for Local Artists […]

  • AR as Visual Narrative: In Conversation with Todd Berreth

    NC State University professor Todd Berreth discusses his evolution as an artist and technologist, with a focus on exploring visual narrative within an AR framework.The post AR as Visual Narrative: In Conversation with Todd Berreth appeared first on […]

  • How This New Startup is Elevating AR Creatives

    As the prevalence of augmented reality technology continues to rise, more creatives look to incorporate it into their practice. Companies like Poplar are looking to support AR creatives.The post How This New Startup is Elevating AR Creatives […]

  • Ahol Sniffs Glue on Retail Partnerships and Never Selling Out

    Artist Ahol Sniffs Glue shares insights on managing your brand, taking on retail partnerships and embracing the hustle.The post Ahol Sniffs Glue on Retail Partnerships and Never Selling Out appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • What is Participatory Design in the Arts?

    Introducing principles of participatory design and participatory art into your work can create a more personal experience for your audience, while also promoting repeated viewings for new experiences.The post What is Participatory Design in the […]

  • Let’s Get Virtual! VR Innovations Bridge Fine Arts & Technology

    How is VR and AR affecting the fine arts sector? In a conversation with [email protected] radio, Grace Cho and Todd Berreth discuss emerging trends in VR art.The post Let’s Get Virtual! VR Innovations Bridge Fine Arts & Technology appeared first on […]

  • Mi-Kyoung Lee on Developing a Practice Far From Home

    Born in South Korea, Philadelphia-based artist Mi-Kyoung Lee weaves fiber and plastic to create ethereal sculptures that meditate on labor and domesticity.The post Mi-Kyoung Lee on Developing a Practice Far From Home appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How an Artist and Musician Collab Can Help Double Your Audience

    From album cover art to costumes and set designs, pairing an artist and musician for an ongoing collaboration is a wonderful way to expand both their networks.The post How an Artist and Musician Collab Can Help Double Your Audience appeared first on […]