The art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi was the subject of a lengthy 60 minutes profile last night. It was a reminder of how little safeguards protect genuine works of art from forgeries. Fakes defraud the public and dilute an artist’s body of work. When a staged photo counts as the ‘gold standard’ for provenance, the art trade is in serious trouble.
Beltracchi is reported to have been the most ‘successful’ art forger in recent history. He was caught and prosecuted by German authorities. Titanium White was able to do what the art trade could and would not: determine a fake from the real thing. Here’s an interview with forensic authenticator Jamie Martin:
Bob Simon: You actually take little pieces off of the painting?
Jamie Martin: We take very little pieces. We take only the minimum amount that’s required. Smaller than the width of a human hair.
He uses what is called Raman spectroscopy, which can help detect historically inaccurate pigments. That’s what cut Beltracchi’s career short. He was sentenced to six years in a German prison. His wife, Helene, to four. But the chaos they wrought has not been undone. Now, galleries and auction houses who vouched for his forgeries have been sued by the collectors who bought them.
Why then was Beltracchi so forthcoming to 60 minutes producers?
And no one disputes that they are awfully good. Beautiful. This $7 million dollar fake Max Ernst is being shipped back to New York. Its owner decided to keep it even after it had been exposed as a fake. He said it’s one of the best Max Ernsts he’s ever seen.
Beltracchi spent a year and a half in this grim penitentiary, but is now allowed to spend many days at home, where he is launching a new career. Beltracchi is painting again and is signing his works Beltracchi. He needs to get his name out there, which is probably why he agreed to talk to us. He’s lost everything is now facing multiple lawsuits totaling $27 million.
- Art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi’s multimillion dollar scam, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/art-forger-wolfgang-beltracchis-multimillion-dollar-scam/ (Feb 23, 2014).