Art forgery is an increasing source of fascination and fear, generating popular tales of fact and fiction that inevitably upset investors and collectors alike. Its most intriguing elements feature dodgy characters, nighttime rendezvous and misunderstood artists fooling everyone with their canny skill for reproduction. Art forgery has been an engaging topic of film, but is nowhere more engaging and interesting than in Orson Welles’s last major movie F for Fake released in 1974. The film features the stories of Elmyr de Hory, a famous Hungarian-born painter who sold forgeries purported to be painted by a wide range of master artists for half a century before being incarcerated. There is no doubt that the topic of art forgery is fascinating, but for art lovers and collectors alike it is an unfortunate threat to the value of their pieces and the understanding of artists themselves.
Forgeries through Time
The Oxford Art Dictionary explains that forgery is “an object that departs from transiently agreed canons of authenticity and is intended to deceive” (Phillips). This strain of deception is old indeed but it became more prevalent with 19th century art and its slow separation from traditional technical artistry in favor of rougher and more subjective forms of representation. Another factor enabling this increase in forgery was the prolific output of many of the 19th and 20th century’s artists and the impossible task of tracking every item created. While forgeries were not a problem in ancient times, modern collectors of ancient items have to navigate a difficult world of items roughly created and intentionally aged in order to pass off as an original ancient piece of pottery or statuary.
Recent Cases Involving Art Forgery
Given our fascination with art and the prevalence of forgeries it is no wonder the topic rarely leaves the news. Recently a Los Angeles antique dealer has been charged with paying an artist $1,000 to recreate a Picasso drawing and than selling it to an unsuspecting collector for $2 million.
Questionable art of another 20th century art icon, Frida Kahlo, has been reported by The Independent newspaper to be flooding the art market in Mexico. This development comes during a court battle challenging the person who recently claims to have unearthed “undiscovered” works by the artist in a trunk and is further muddying the market there. In fact, forgeries have become such an appealing a subject that museums are even beginning to collect famous examples of the phenomenon and an English art museum even launched an exhibition on the subject in December 2009.
Solutions to the Issue
There are thousands of reputable art sellers online that clearly mark that their paintings, prints and posters are copies, but there are thousands more art sellers who intentionally deceive and do not clearly mark their products. Ignoring and avoiding expert opinions, these sellers navigate a legal grey area and often fall back on the excuse that it was signed with the name of a famous artist and therefore they sold it as such. The prevalence of such schemes necessitates the expert opinion of an art appraiser. A reputable art appraiser who prizes research can help you ferret out the forgery from the original and can direct you towards galleries and sellers with sound reputations. MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. encourages you to contact us for information on our consultation services and would be happy to share our experiences with fakes with you. Our staff of appraisers and researchers will work hard to insure that your money is well spent and your investment sound.
Written and Researched by Justin Bergquist
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser & Director: Farhad Radfar, ISA, AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 814-8510
Phillips, David. “Forgery,” in Oxford Art Online.
“California Dealer Tatiana Khan Charged with Selling Phony Picasso,” on Artdaily.org
Johnson, Andrew. “Kahlo ‘fakes’ flood into Mexico,” in The Independent
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