Saving the Art Market – artmarketblog.com
Are you aware that it is estimated that between 10% and 40% (depending on who you talk to) of artworks on the market are fakes or forgeries? Did you know that according to the Smithsonian Magazine, “almost 75 percent of the so-called antiques marketed through Hong Kong are said to be copies”? Did you know that according to an article from Art Business News “According to Thimmel, president of All American Collectibles, the FBI estimates that fully 70 percent of the signed memorabilia in circulation is phony”? The same article from Art Business News  includes a quote from the executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research who estimates that 80-90% of the works that they research are not by the artist who was supposed to have created the works in question.
As you can see from the statistics, art fraud is a massive problem that is much more prevalent and much more problematic than most people actually realise. The reason that there is not a greater knowledge of the number of fakes and forgeries on the market is because:
1. Dealers don’t want to report fake or forged works they have dealt with for fear of being seen as nieve or stupid.
2. Dealers don’t want to be associated with fake or forged works in case it has an negative effect on people’s perception of their business.
3. Buyers of fake or forged works don’t want to be seen as being nieve or gullable and therefore are unlikely to publicise the fact that they have purchased a fake or forged work
4. There is no obligation for people to publicise the fact that an artwork is a fake or forgery and as such many of these questionable works continue to circulate within the market.
5. A dealer will rarely report another dealer for handling fake or forged works for fear of being seen to be jealous of that other dealer or being seen to be trying to
The stigma attached with being associated with a fake or forged artwork has meant that more often than not the market will turn a blind eye to works that they consider to be questionable and will usually just refuse to deal with a work they believe to be a fake or forgery and send the owner of the work on their way. Art dealers, auction houses and galleries will rarely report a fake or forgery which means that someone trying to sell such a work will just continue moving from dealer to dealer trying to sell the work until someone takes on the work for sale. In the case where a dealer, gallery of auction house has taken on a work that they later believe to be faked or forged they will either just give the work back to the owner or just not say anything at all. Either way the questionable work is once again allowed to continue to circulate the market unchallenged.
One thing that everyone needs to be aware of is that the definition of a fake or forged work is not just a work of art that has been created by someone with the intention of deceive people into believing it is by someone that it is not. The market will sometimes consider a work that is altered (repaired, touched up, completed etc.) beyond what is reasonable and acceptable (in terms of maintaining the artist’s original intention of what the work should look like) to be no longer by that artist and as such, if still attributed to that artist, to be a forgery or fake.
Because the problem of art fraud is such a massive problem the severity of which is severely underestimated, I am going to continue to report on this issue in the future with the hope of encouraging collectors, dealers, investors, gallerists, auctioneers etc. to be more vigilant when dealing with works of art. Just because a problem is not widely publicised doesn’t mean that it isn’t having a major impact. If something is not done about this problem very soon I believe the ramifications will be most severe.
In the World of Forgery, No Work is Sacred – art and collectible forgeries and how to recognize them
Art Business News, Oct, 2000 by Barden Prisant
Image: Time magazine cover with image of painting by famous art forger Emlyr de Hory
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.