Joining plastic, glass and metal on the recycling list: Fake Art


Anyone who thinks that works of art declared to be false simply go out of favor or are destroyed should speak to Jane Kallir, the author of the catalog. reasoned for Egon Schiele, the Austrian painter. She was offered the same fake Schiele watercolor for authentication, she said, 10 times by 10 different collectors.

Or maybe chat with David L. Hall, the former Federal Prosecutor who handled cases developed by the FBI Art Crime Team. He will tell you about a watercolor attributed to Andrew Wyeth that was released three times after Wyeth himself called it a fake.

A dealer had paid him $ 20,000 and when he attempted to auction it off in 2008, Wyeth’s curator recognized him and contacted the FBI, who seized him. The FBI finally handed it over to Hall as a thank you for all the years he spent pursuing the business he had developed.

“It’s on a shelf in my office,” Hall, now in private practice, said in an interview. “When I got it, I wrote ‘fake’ in ink on the back.”

While it may be heartwarming to hear of counterfeits ordered by judges or boldly branded as fraud, the reality is more complicated.

Works declared false often have diverse afterlife, according to law enforcement officials, academics and art market veterans. Some are retained by universities as instruments of study, others as the legacy of well-meaning donors who lacked an expert eye. Some were used in a sting by an undercover agent who hoped the feeling of wealth created by fancy paintings on a yacht would be a persuasive part of her pose.

But many works, experts say, have a second life that looks a lot like the first: as recycled fakes for unsuspecting buyers.

“We see things are re-circulating in the market – I think it happens on a regular basis,” said Timothy Carpenter, special agent supervising the FBI Art Crime Team.

Jack Flam, president and CEO of the Dedalus Foundation, which was founded by artist Robert Motherwell to promote understanding of modern art, said that by bringing together the catalog raisonné of Motherwell’s paintings and collages, the foundation told a collector that his painting could not be included because it was wrong. Several years later, another collector who had purchased the painting from the first showed up, only to face the same disappointing news.

Kallir, author of the Schiele catalog raisonné and president of the Kallir Research Institute, said she saw “on average” one fake per week.

“Sometimes the fakes come back over and over again with different owners not being made aware of what we told the previous owner,” she said.

The problem is complicated by the fact that a conclusion that something is wrong is often nothing more than an opinion – expert in many cases, reliable in many cases – but opinion nonetheless. The owners of such objects are not always willing to accept that they have been duped, especially if they have paid dearly for discredited work.

“Sometimes expertise changes over generations,” said James Roundell, director of London-based dealer Dickinson, who once headed the Impressionist and Modern art department at Christie’s.

“When someone tells the owner of a collection that he has something that is not genuine, the collector does not want to announce to the outside world that he has a fake.”

Carpenter said he recalled a case where a novice collector bought around 300 prints, almost all of them fake, and was turned away when he tried to sell them through an auction house.

Carpenter said the auction house called the FBI “We got all these coins,” he said, “but this guy didn’t like it. He thought the auction house didn’t know what they were doing. He thought we didn’t know what we were doing. He allowed us to keep about 40 of them which we seized, but demanded the return of the rest. We had. They are his property.

The collector ultimately put the prints in a storage facility, from where they were stolen, Carpenter said. “These prints are almost certainly back on the market,” he said.

Deciding whether or not to market a work whose attribution is in dispute becomes much easier in cases where the forger’s hand has become evident. In these cases, the issue becomes, not a difference of opinion, but an act of fraud. Take the case of the now defunct Knoedler & Company gallery, which sold dozens of works attributed to modernist masters that were all fake.

The versatile painter who took them all eventually acknowledged his role in creating them, although he denied knowing that they would be marketed as originals. The dealer who brought them to market through Knoedler ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and other crimes. The gallery and its director, Anne Freedman, were never charged, but they were prosecuted, and after the lawsuits were settled, the owners of 10 of the discredited works were interested in keeping them, said Luke Nikas, Freedman’s attorney. .

Three other forgeries, originally sold as the work of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, hang in Nikas’ office, on loan from Freedman who said she herself was tricked into buying several. .

“These are important artefacts in the history of law and art, intersecting here in a fascinating story about culture, morality and psychology,” Nikas said.

While there are many in the art world who believe that those fascinated by counterfeits are exaggerating their prevalence in the market, there is no doubt that discredited works have a way of hanging out.

Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, said the museum contained hundreds of fakes. “These are primarily Roman, medieval, and Renaissance works acquired by founder Henry Walters in 1902,” Vikan said. “Some of the works had been sold to him as paintings by Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has 14 fake fingerprints of Damien Hirst that were recovered from a forger’s apartment in 2016, according to a spokesperson.

Universities with large collections of forgeries include New York University and Harvard. They often use them as educational tools.

“We have around 1,000 items that have been donated as fake by dealers, collectors and auction houses,” said Margaret Ellis, professor emeritus of Eugene Thaw paper conservation at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts. -arts of New York University. “But sometimes things are donated to universities and museums which are then determined to be fake.”

“The works range from fake ancient Greek bronzes and fake Rembrandts, Turners and van Gogh to contemporary prints,” Ellis said. “These help students know what they’re looking at and can be extremely educational when you put them next to the real work. Students of art history are discovering that stylistic analysis must be backed up by technical analysis.

The Harvard Art Museums – including the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler Museums – have around 250 fake paintings and drawings donated by collectors and dealers. Miriam Stewart, curator of the collection in the European and American art division, said the works ranged from counterfeits from Daumier and Corot to Matisse and George Inness.

“Most of the works have been accepted as counterfeits,” said Stewart. “We were known as some kind of counterfeit repository a long time ago. But now we no longer actively take fakes. We haven’t done this for decades.

The FBI has confiscated thousands of fakes, which are usually not destroyed, but stored in many places.

“I can’t give you an exact number, but the total is over 3,000,” Carpenter said. “These are mainly prints by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Joan Miró. I will not say that they are in all the field offices. Things are a bit scattered, but most of them are in storage facilities in New York, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Rarely has the FBI exposed some of its fakes. One exhibition, “Caveat Emptor” was curated by Fordham University in 2013 and included paintings once wrongly attributed to Rembrandt, Gauguin, Renoir, Gris, Matisse and Chagall.

In one case, the FBI used fake artwork that it confiscated as part of an undercover operation.

Robert Wittman, former head of the FBI Art Crime Team, said that in 2007, when he was an undercover agent posing as a shady art dealer, he borrowed six fake paintings allegedly of Dalí , Degas, Soutine, O’Keeffe, Klimt and Chagall from an FBI warehouse in Miami to “prove to two French mafiosi that I was real”.

The gangsters knew him as Bob Clay. “Using my real name,” he said, “I was following a cardinal rule of undercover work: keep lies to a minimum. The more lies you tell, the more you have to remember them.

The script asked Wittman to sell the works to a Colombian drug dealer on a yacht off the coast of Florida. The drug dealer, along with the captain, flight attendant, and five bikini-clad women on board were FBI agents. The sale was made with fake diamonds and an alleged wire transfer, but the thugs eventually disappeared.

“The reason art helped me is that part of my legend as an undercover agent was dealing with stolen paintings.” said Wittman. “It proved that I was involved in criminal activity.”

The United States Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement body of the Postal Service, also has a small collection of forgeries that were seized during a 1991 covert operation led by Jack Ellis, a postal service inspector, who helped recover 100,000 false prints allegedly to be by Dalí, Picasso, Miró, Chagall and others.

Several of the fake Miró and Chagall are on the walls of the Inspection Service headquarters in Washington, DC. Others are occasionally on display at the Inspection Service training academy and in an exhibit at the National Postal Museum.

Most of the prints seized were destroyed on the instruction of a judge, but the Post Office requested that some be kept. “The inspectors also recovered several sheets of paper in which the forger was practicing forging Dalí’s signatures,” said James Tendick, a former colleague of Ellis.

As fascinating and compelling as the fakes may be, they certainly lose value once unmasked. Kallir, Schiele’s expert, said she witnessed it firsthand.

“I have three fake Schiele oils and about 20 fake Schiele works on paper which were mostly abandoned by people who originally brought them in for authentication,” she said. “After giving them our opinion, they didn’t want them to come back. “

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