Due Diligence in the Art World

How many philanthropic dollars are spent by art museums on fake art?

The quality of these paintings – their faithful duplicity – jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.

In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.

How to spot a perfect fake: the world’s top art forgery detective, The Guardian

Incentives work, whether for good or ill, to instill hard work and creativity in any endeavor.

Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of [James] Martin’s technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isn’t wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into “Raphaels”.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure they’ll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns – the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.

If you collect art, you might need to an add an extra step in your due diligence before you buy.

Read more about detecting art forgeries here.

Where Art Forgeries Meet Their Match, The New York Times

Fakes, Forgeries and the Experts Who Spot Them, Sotheby’s

Bringing Light to the Darkness, The Analytical Scientist

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash

Post by Marcelino Pantoja