Leila Alexandra Amineddoleh has posted an abstract of her latest piece, which appeared in the Spring issue of the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal. Amineddoleh, as many readers likely know, teaches art and cultural heritage law as an adjunct Professor at a good portion of New York’s law schools, including I think recently with St. John’s and Fordham. She also is a Partner and co-founder of her own art and cultural heritage law firm, Galuzzo & Amineddoleh.
The authorship of artwork greatly affects its value. For this reason, authentication in art is a complex and sometimes contentious process. This paper examines the history of art authentication, due diligence to ensure that purchasers are not buying forgeries, complex cases without clear-cut answers, and legal tools available to buyers after a forgery has been purchased.
Amineddoleh, Leila Alexandra. “Are You Faux Real? An Examination of Art Forgery and the Legal Tools Protecting Art Collectors.” SSRN Scholarly Paper, May 26, 2015. http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2784963.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, 60 minutes examined the rapid fall of the Knoedler Art Gallery in 2011. The piece does a thorough job of giving background on the Knoedler Gallery, the role of the Cataloge Raisonne, and scientific testing.
I found particularly interesting this exchange between Anderson Cooper, and Domenico de Sole, one of the collectors, and the chairman of Sotheby’s which underscores the role of reputation and trust in the art market:
Anderson Cooper: Do you feel you did enough due diligence as a buyer?
Domenico de Sole: My due diligence was to go to the best, most prominent gallery in the United States dealing with a person with a stellar reputation, and pay a price that was reasonable, it was fair.
Domenico de Sole was the person who bought that $8 million fake Mark Rothko and told us he believes Knoedler Gallery and its President Ann Freedman either knew or should have known that this lucrative collection could not possibly be genuine. Greg Clarick is his attorney.
Greg Clarick: The red flags began with the notion that Glafira Rosales, who was an unknown person to Knoedler, who Knoedler never investigated, came in and she started delivering what turned out to be an endless stream of never-before-seen paintings was enough to raise a huge red flag.
Anderson Cooper: Strangers don’t walk off the street into a gallery saying that they have access to a never-before-seen collection of some of the greatest masterpieces
Greg Clarick: That’s right. Second, the works had no provenance.
Anderson Cooper: No chain, no history?
Greg Clarick: They had no history. They had no documents.
Anderson Cooper: So there was no evidence these paintings had ever been painted by the artists?
Greg Clarick: That’s correct.
Not only that, there were no bills of sale, no insurance records, no shipping documents, and no museum exhibitions for any of the paintings. Greg Clarick told us the gallery had motivation to overlook the paintings’ shortcomings.
Greg Clarick: Over the period of this fraud, Knoedler sold these paintings for about $67 million. Knoedler made over $40 million in profit from selling these paintings. And at the same time, Knoedler made essentially no money at all from selling other paintings.
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News Virginia has crassly bowed to the need for more visitors and made the decision to exhibit a number of works by James E. Buttersworth alongside a forgery of his work by Ken Perenyi. The attraction with forged art knows no bounds it seems. How would the artist feel to know that decades later his work was being displayed alongside the work of a criminal:
A small Buttersworth in good condition might sell for $30,000, said Alan Granby, who, with Janice Hyland, runs Hyland Granby Antiques in Hyannis Port, Mass, which usually has several Buttersworths for sale. The much rarer large paintings, especially those depicting America’s Cup races, can go for more than $1 million. Mr. Perenyi said that his prices range from $5,000 to $150,000.
The museum has made a point of not mentioning Mr. Perenyi, who said he did not know until a reporter approached him that his work was in its current show. “We did not want to lend any legitimacy to the forger or be seen as promoting him in any way,” Mr. Forbes said.
On entering the exhibition, visitors approach a high-resolution digital image of “Magic and Gracie off Castle Garden,” an 1871 Butterworth that shows two yachts, sails taut in the wind, racing neck and neck in New York Harbor. On a nearby television screen, a photo of Buttersworth pops up, and “hot spots,” activated with the touch of a finger, explain the fine points: the signature, size, background features, sky and weather, seas and sea gulls, composition and meticulous detailing of the ships.
Visitors, prompted by clues in the wall texts, then try to identify the lone forgery. At two voting booths, they can test their suspicions by entering the number of the suspected forgery on touch screens that tell them whether they are right or wrong and offer to give them the correct answer. Then the honor system applies. Those in the know are asked not to give away the secret.
We might forgive the casual observer’s relaxed views of art forgers. Perhaps because many of us, on some level, love an outlaw. Tales of art forgers have been popular: Clifford Irving’s Fake! (1969) examined the life of notorious art faker Elmyr de Höry. Orson Welles’ documentary examination of creation and storytelling F for Fake (1973) still cuts to the heart of what it means to make art. Done well, portrayals of art forgery force us to question the aesthetic experience. Yet many fail to acknowledge the underlying wrongdoing. Putting aside their colorful stories and backgrounds, all art counterfeiters are creating an elaborate lie. These individuals defraud our collective cultural heritage by distorting the body of work that artists have created. Prof. John Henry Merryman has called art counterfeiters “cultural vandals”. Those who watch the new documentary, Art and Craft, will first want to mark its subject as a vandal, but by the end may feel differently about him.
The documentary offers a terrific examination of the complicated predicament Landis gifted to at least 46 museums in 20 States. And does so by allowing the museum staff and Landis himself to tell us how he was able to fool so many for so long.
Landis would forge works with skill, such skill that he was able to use surprisingly inexpensive materials. But rather than sell his works, he would pose as a donor and give away his forged work. Most recently he impersonated a Jesuit priest. In the past he would pretend to come from old money. He would arrive at mostly small to mid-size art museums in his deceased mother’s cadillac and give his forged creations away. The documentary film, directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, with Mark Becker co-directing, gives us a first-hand view of how Landis creates forgeries and shows him giving them away. Viewers will come away with different impressions of the man. Landis battles anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. In scenes where he describes his day-to-day well-being to doctors and caregivers, he’s asked how he stays busy, how he engages with the world.
Landis forges with simple materials: instant coffee, cheap frames, plywood, photocopies, some paint and most of all clever technique. His materials are purchased from chain hobby and home improvement stores. The man who finally caught Landis was Mat Leininger, a former Registrar at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art The filmmakers hint at but don’t quite dive in to the tricky question of whether Leinenger’s pursuit of Landis and his forgeries made his employers at the Cincinnati Art Museum uncomfortable, or if there were other reasons for his dismissal. But for much of the film Leininger offer’s Prof. Merryman’s position, basically pointing out Landis’s wrongdoing, and expressing frustration at how difficult it can be to convince some museum staff that they have been fooled. Special praise should go to those curators who were willing to be filmed on camera after having been fooled.
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.