Showing posts with label fakes and forgeries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fakes and forgeries. Show all posts

July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
As has been noted to be the case in the past, Sicilian trafficking cases sometimes have organized crime origins and that appears to also be the case with this week's announced Operation Demetra, named after the Greek divinity much venerated in Sicily.   As new individuals are identified with this investigation, it is interesting to see how some of them are connected to one another, to incidences of trafficking in the past and how they fit into the puzzle of this multinational investigation. 

Gaetano Patermo
Begun as an anti-mafia investigation, initiated by the Nissena Prosecutor for the territory of Riesi, Operation Demetra grew to international proportions when the Carabinieri began reinvestigating the activities of Gaetano Patermo (A.K.A "Tano"). 

Gaetano Patermo
In 2007 Patermo was named along with other individuals,  including Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone, in a 35-person investigation involving illegal excavations, theft, reproduction, falsification, exportation, sale and receipt, even in foreign territory, of archaeological assets belonging to the public domain.

Although acquitted for these earlier alleged offences the details of the 2007 case were remarkably similar to the methodology used by traffickers involved in the 2014-2018 investigation that Patermo has now been arrested for.  According to the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Property responsible for the archaeological heritage of Palermo, led by Major Luigi Mancuso, the antiquities were being transferred from Sicily to northern Italy, hidden inside baggage along with travellers garments and inside the linings of suitcases. 

In the older case, clandestine material was transported out of Sicily through Spain and Switzerland by means of campers or trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables.  Once out of the country the antiquities and coins were also passed on to potential international buyers.  

As it relates to Operation Demetra, it is alleged that Patermo had contacts with the network of couriers that transported illlicit material and interacted with individuals connected to the London-based art dealer William Thomas Veres. 

Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone
Angelo Chiantia (Left) and Simone Di Simone (Right)
Not picked up in the original sweep earlier this week, but wanted by the Italian authorities in connection with this more recent investigation, Angelo Chiantia of Riesi and Simone Di Simone of Gela, in the presence of their lawyers, turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities yesterday afternoon.  Both are believed to have played roles as middlemen in the smuggling of cultural heritage abroad. 

Francesco Lucerna is from Riesi, hometown of the notorious Mafia boss Giuseppe Di Cristina in the province of Caltanissetta, whose death was a prelude to the Second Mafia War.  In addition to being an alleged "tomborolo" Lucerne was identified in February 2015 as the person who put together this organized network of tombaroli and counterfeiters, selling authentic and imitation archaeological remains to wealthy entrepreneurs and industrialists in Piedmont, where he had relocated, as well as on to buyers in Germany.  

Following the 2015 search and seizures carried out in the province of Caltanissetta more than one thousand artifacts were seized including 859 clay vases and amphorae, 146 ancient coins dating back to the Greek and Roman age, 191 paleontological finds and two illegal metal detectors.   The antiquities were believed to have come from an undocumented fourth or fifth century BCE villa, most likely discovered somewhere in the archaeological area of ​​Philosopiana, between Butera and Riesi.  Unfortunately without a find spot, and with nothing known about the context around where the antiquities were excavated, little can be concretely ascertained.  Police also raided two forgers in Misterbianco and Paternò, near Catania, whose workshops contained 878 counterfeit coins and 960 forged coin dies which were used to strike the authentic-looking fakes.  These were being prepared to be sold to collectors, possibly being told they were authentic. 

Andrea Palma
Lists himself on Linkedin as a Numismatic Expert & Advisor at Martí Hervera, SL in Barcelona as well as at Soler y Llach Subastas Internacionales, S.A.

Interestingly, he also appears to have been affiliated in some way with an excavation at the Villa Romana del Casale di Piazza Armerina (EN), in Sicily and to have earned a degree from the Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" where he studied at numismatics, epigraphy and archaeology. 

William Veres

The Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Veres has always walked a fine line in who and how he has worked with individuals known to have had connections to illicit trafficking.  In addition to the questionable incidences already mentioned in our earlier blog posts, in which he received a suspended sentence, and the billionaire purchaser was acquitted, Veres was once accused by former self-confessed smuggler and police informant Michel Van Rijn of running a London-based business that deals in smuggled relics.  One of those relics was a Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot), part of an ancient codice written in Coptic and Greek which surfaced on the international art market once connected to many well known names and faces.

Veres was arrested at his home at his home in Stanmore, northwest London this week. 

William Veres
Lest we forget, art criminals don't just deal with tomb raiders, gallery show rooms and collectors of ancient art.  Sometimes they also rub elbows with the worst of the underworld. And if you think that the Procura di Caltanissetta only deals with heritage crimes you would be wrong.

Personnel of the provincial command of the Carabinieri of Caltanissetta, at the request of the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) and of the local prosecutor are also following investigations in the region against the 'family' of Riesi, the "stidda" of the Cosa Nostra.  This group is believed to be responsible for not only the trafficking of drugs, and extortion, but also appear to have been the executors of numerous murders and attempted murders which took place in the early 1990s. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2018

Operation Demetra: The Trafficking of Sicilian Archaeological Treasures

Image Credit: Carabinieri TPC

Updated 13:00 GMT+1

In a press conference held today, at 11:00 at the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Court of Caltanissetta, Italy announced the result of an illicit trafficking investigation, long established under the code named "Demeter" which first started in 2014.

In coordination with officials from EUROPOL and EUROJUST, the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Caltanissetta and the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Palermo, in collaboration with the investigative nucleus of Caltanissetta, an order for the application of precautionary measures was issued by the Court of Caltanissetta, against 23 people.

Precautionary measures, were issued to individuals in Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Crotone, Enna, Lecce, Naples, Novara, Taranto, Turin, Ragusa, and Syracuse, where simultaneously or in tandem, raids were carried out which also included searches for illicit archaeological finds.  Precautionary measures against those taken into custody are those measures of privation or restriction of the rights of a person, adopted on the basis of a dual premise: the serious indications of guilt (article 272 c.p.p.) and the precautionary requirements related to ensuring their presence at judicial proceedings (article 273c.p.p.).

According to the Italian authorities, Francesco Lucerna, a 76-year-old "tombarolo" from Riesi, a small town in the province of Caltanissetta, worked alongside a network of individuals fencing archaeological finds for decades uncovered via clandestine excavations.  Many of these illicit excavations purportedly took place in the provinces of Caltanissetta and Agrigento, areas in Sicily which are rich with ancient objects of Greek and Roma production, many of which date back to the IV-V centuries BCE.  The plundered objects dug up by this group were transported to Northern Italy via middlemen and from there made their way into collectors hands and the greater European art market.

With regards to in this multiyear long investigation the following individuals are being held in pre-trial detention:

• Francesco Lucerna, also known as "Zu Gino", 76 years old from Riesi (CL);
• Matteo Bello, 61, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Francesco Giordano, 71, from Campobello di Licata (AG);
• Luigi Giuseppe Grifasi, 64, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Calogero Ninotta, 39, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Gaetano Romano, 58, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Gaetano Patermo, 63, from Riesi (CL);
• Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66, from Belpasso (CT).

The following have been released on house arrest pending the outcome of their cases:
• Giovanni Lucerna, 49, from Turin;
• Maria Debora Lucerna , 55, from Turin;
• Salvatore Pappalardo, 75, of Misterbianco (CT);
• Calogero Stagno, 51, of Favara (AG);
• Luigi Signorello, 34, from Belpasso (CT);
• Luigi Laroce, 62, from Strongoli (KR).

While most of the individuals implicated reside in Italy, three others were arrested in Great Britain, Germany and Spain.

They are:

William Thomas Veres, 64, residing in London, UK;
Andrea Palma, 36, originally from Campobasso but resident in Barcelona, Spain;
Rocco Mondello, 61 years old from Gela, a resident of Ehingen, Germany.


Each is accused in various ways of criminal association and/or the receiving of stolen goods as it relates to the trafficking of antiquities.

William Thomas Veres has been previously arrested in Spain on August 16, 2017 on un unrelated trafficking case via an extradition warrant from Italy for the alleged theft of antiquities and cultural heritage objects.  Veres was also given a suspended sentence of one year and ten months imprisonment for his role in a November 09, 1995, U.S. Customs seizure of a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations sold on to Art Collector Michael Steinhardt.


Utilising a European Investigation Order issued by the prosecutor of the Republic of Caltanissetta and with the coordination of EUROPOL and EUROJUST, searches were conducted abroad where numerous archaeological finds, 30,000 euros in cash and documentation useful for further investigations were all seized.  Investigations are also reported to be ongoing at two auction houses located in Munich, Germany.

Entered into force 22 May 2017, a European Investigation Order is based on mutual recognition, and requires that each EU country be obliged to recognise and carry out the request of the other EU country, as it would do with a decision coming from its own authorities. 

In total some 3,000 archaeological objects are said to have been recovered with an estimated value of €20 million.  Placing value on material culture outside of their context though cheapens the loss as the loss of context and what we can learn from the objects found in situ is not factored in their estimated valuation. 

Interestingly this network is also believed to have been involved in counterfeiting ancient coins and other objects intended for sale when the demand for ancient material exceeded the supply chain's capacity to provide looted material. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 17, 2017

Rome: A lab which will help the force to detect and unmask fakes and forgeries.


Given the growing phenomenon in counterfeit cultural heritage, Italy's Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Rome's Roma Tre University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment a “Laboratorio del Falso,” a lab which will help the force to detect and unmask fakes and forgeries and aimed at teaching and scientific research related to cultural heritage. 

In 2017 the Carabinieri seized, 783 fake objects compared to only 57 fabrications in 2016. As ever-more-elaborate forgeries hit the market, more research is needed to differentiate between what is genuine and what is counterfeit.

Signed by Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of the World Cultural and Prof. Mario De Nonno, Director of the Department of Humanities of the University of Roma Tre the goal of the agreement and the laboratory's development is to help enhance scholarly insight and in so doing, work to alleviate the proliferation of inauthentic works in the art market. 

Motivated by the ease with which historical and visual evidence is manipulated by con artists preying on collectors, the adopted partnership will carry out studies on the artists most prone to counterfeiting and will examine and develop techniques, procedures, and systems to allow better identification of the genuine thereby helping to shine the spotlight on what is real, rather than what is a deception.

In conjunction with this initiative Italy's MiBact and the Ministry of Economic Development will present 15 lectures in different Italian cities on the problem and recognition of art forgeries, titled "L'arte non vera non può essere arte" (Art that is not authentic, isn't art".  The events will be held in the cities where the Carabinieri TPC have their regional offices and will conclude with a special event at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, (National Gallery of Modern Art --GNAM where there will be an exhibition of copies of counterfeit works of art previously confiscated by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

The dates and locations of these events include:

Ancona - October 4, 2017, 9:00 am 
Auditorium della Mole Vanvitelliana
For information: tel. 071.201322
email: tpcannu@carabinieri.it

Perugia - October 11, 2017, 5:30 pm
Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria
For information: tel. 0754.4194
email: tpcpgnu@carabinieri.it

Palermo - October 18, 2017, 9:00 am
Palazzo Belmonte Riso of the  Museo Regionale d’Arte Contemporanea
For information: tel. 091.422825
email: tpcpanu@carabinieri.it

Udine - October 27, 2017, 6:00 pm
Palazzo Garzolini Toppo Wassermann at the Scuola Superiore dell’Universita' di Udine
For information: tel. 0432.504904
email: tpcudnu@carabinieri.it

Cosenza - November 8, 2017, 10:00 am
Palazzo Arnone, Giorgio Leone Hall at the Polo Museale della Abria
For information: tel. 0984.795540
email: tpccsnu@carabinieri.it

Turin - November 10, 2017, 9:30 am
Vivaldi Auditorium at the Biblioteca Nazionale
For information: tel. 011.5217715
email: tpctonu@carabinieri.it

Cagliari - November 15-16, 2017, 9:30 am
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Cagliari
For information: tel. 070.307808
email: tpccanu@carabinieri.it

Genoa - November 16, 2017, 11:00 am
Archivio di Stato di Genova
For information: tel. 010.5955488
email: tpcgenu@carabinieri.it

Monza - November 16, 2017, 9:30 am
Villa Reale
For information: tel. 039.2303997
email: tpcmznu@carabinieri.it

Naples - November 20, 2017, 10:00 am
Palazzo Reale
For information: tel. 081.5568291
email: tpcnanu@carabinieri.it

Venice - November 22, 2017, 10:00 am
Universita' degli Studi Ca’ Foscari - "Mario Baratto Conference Hall"
For information: tel. 041.5222054
email: tpcvenu@carabinieri.it

Bari - November 22, 9:00 am
Castello Svevo
For information: tel. 080.5213038
email: tpcbanu@carabinieri.it

Florence - November 28, 2017, 9:30 am
the Teatro del Rondo' di Bacco  of the Palazzo Pitti
For information and accreditation: tel. 055.295330
email: tpcfinu@carabinieri.it

Bologna - November 29, 2017, 10:00 am
Monticelli Hall at the Comando Legione Carabinieri “Emilia Romagna” 
For information and accreditation: tel. 051.261385
email: tpcbonu@carabinieri.it

Rome - December 5, 2017, 
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna
Details Forthcoming

August 27, 2017

Conference - Authenticity, forgery, provenance, and ethics at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


The 2017 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, will be held in Boston on November 18–21, 2017 and will feature an interesting panel on legitimacy and forgery and the ethical and unethical trade and publication of historic archaeological material with limited or no provenance. 

The title of the panel is:  Avoiding Deception: Forgeries, Fake News, and Unprovenanced Material in Religious Studies

Session date and time:  November 19, 2017 from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Rome and Location: Orleans (Fourth Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)

Invited speakers include: 


According to the annual meeting program book this session will delve into the following: 

Why is provenance important? Although the forgery of documents and artifacts has always been a primary concern in religious studies, recent events surrounding the colloquially designated “Jesus’ Wife Fragment” and various unprovenanced fragments touted as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls have propelled scholars into a new era of forgery studies. While some may suppose that scholars are easily able to identify and disprove such items as forgeries, the complicated landscape in which such materials surface and are distributed has necessitated the adaptation of scholarship to remain diligent in preserving authentic items of history for study. This panel will address the challenges facing scholars in identifying and disproving forgeries in our current era. Invited speakers will similarly offer a space to examine the complexities and current status of forgeries in religious studies, identifying ways scholars can navigate the field without perpetuating erroneous materials in their scholarship. Time will be left following the panel for students and faculty to meet and mingle, in order to facilitate networking between scholars interested in similar material.

February 5, 2017

New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust writer's book reviewed in the Guardian.

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

In October last year, art-historian, curator, art-crime writer and founding trustee of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust published her ground-breaking Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: the New Zealand Story (Awa Press, Wellington NZ; 2016). A fascinating and fine read, the book has just been reviewed in the UK's the Guardian.  

As the reviewer notes:

From stolen Italian masterpieces ending up on the walls of a provincial South Island gallery, to a steady supply of fake Dick Frizzells being sold online, New Zealand’s history has been rife with art crime.

And the shady world of fakes, forgeries and fraudsters in the South Pacific island nation has for the first time been subjected to a comprehensive book, by art historian and independent curator Penelope Jackson.

The ARCA Blog featured the book at the time of publication here.

Art Thieves is available in good bookshops around New Zealand - and also at the publisher's website here.

November 15, 2016

Has a Toronto art historian uncovered a treasure trove of Van Gogh sketches? Probably not

Self Portrait with Straw Hat, July or August 1888, Arles
Attributed to Vincent Van Gogh  © Éditions du Seuil
Yesterday, at a much talked about media event at the Academy of Architecture in Paris, Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a professor emerita in art history at the University of Toronto presented the findings of her new book, Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook.  The book contains a grouping of sixty-five previously unknown sketches, primarily drawn using a reed pen with brown ink, which the historian asserts is a long-lost sketchbook, made up of drawings done by the artist while he lived in the south of France.  

Historically, there are four confirmed Van Gogh sketchbooks which encompass 150 drawings from the artist's stays in Antwerp, Nuenen, Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise. All four of the previously known sketchbooks are part of the Van Gogh Museum collection in Amsterdam and are meticulously stored in their prints and drawings archive, away from public view due to their sensitivity to light. 

These recognized sketchbooks contain rudimentary sketches and figure studies, with only a few more detailed and elaborate compositions. One of these, a sketchbook with a marbled inside cover, contains some of the artist's first known drawings of people and places. This sketchbook captures the rural life of the artist's stay in Nuenen. 


This pocket-sized sketchbook contains Van Gogh's sketch of the church in Nuenen. This not only dates the sketchbook, but it helps to authenticate the oil on canvas painting he later completed for his mother, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen which was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002 and then recovered 14 years later in Italy

The newly discovered  40.5 by 26 centimeters sketchbook presented in Paris this month contains among other drawings, a self-portrait as well as portraits of bar-owners Marie and Joseph Ginoux, the artist Paul Gauguin, and a series of landscapes and still lifes.  There are also three sketches of the Yellow House on Place Lamartine in Arles.  Van Gogh rented four rooms in the now famous house on May 1, 1888. 

But the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is not convinced of the sketchbook's authenticity.  On the basis of 56 high-quality photographs sent to the museum for consultation in 2008 and 2012, their experts gave an early opinion on its sketchbook's authenticity – an opinion omitted in this recent publication, most likely at the behest of the owners of the would-be Van Gogh album.

Citing the type of ink represented in the drawings, (Van Gogh used purple and black ink) the state of the paper and deviations in the technical skills and characteristic style of the famous artist's other sketchbooks, experts at the museum do not believe that these drawings are the authentic work of Vincent Van Gogh.  In a harsh rebuttal they stated that "the drawing style of the maker of the drawings in The Lost Arles Sketchbook is, in the opinion of our experts, monotonous, clumsy, and spiritless."

They also voiced serious concerns about the sketch book's provenance. 

The museum's public statement on the purported sketchbook can be read in its entirety here.

But Welsh-Ovcharov stands by her theory that the work is not a fake and has stated "Van Gogh experimented here with the rhythm of the lines and just distribution. Remember: these works are made without [a] perspective frame. And in a very short time. The drawings are not intended as finished compositions. Rather, they are doodles. "

Discovering a new sketchbook, flush with so many previously unknown drawings, 126 years after the artist's death would be highly unusual, but the choice of ink is also an anomaly. 

When Van Gogh sketched, he often favored pen-and-ink, using a quill, steel, or reed pen instead of black chalk, charcoal or pencils.  One of the inks he preferred was crystal violet (CV), a synthetic dye that was first made in 1883, not sepia shellac, as was used in this newly discovered sketchbook. 

Brightly-coloured CV triphenylmethane ink was inexpensive to manufacture and often replaced natural dye inks in works of art during Van Gogh's lifetime.  But the cheap ink came at a high price, one that proved devastating to the Van Gogh's authenticated sketches.  Crystal violet (CV) ink is very UV light sensitive. 

Photodegradation to Vincent's drawings, sketched using the ink, have discolored rapidly.  Some of the artist's drawings using the ink have turned various shades of brown and others have faded almost entirely.  This sorrowful reality can be seen in the contrasting photographs of one of Van Gogh's drawings below.

Montmajour (May/June 1888), drawing with purple ink,
Van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Left– 1928 photograph; Right –  2001 photograph
Time being a cruel master, Van Gogh's CV ink sketches have proven to be so sensitive to ultraviolet light that many of them are virtually unrecognizable.  To protect what remains, the museum's curators at the Van Gogh Museum have stored the bulk of the artist's ink drawings, his letters, and the four authenticated sketchbooks in the museum's archives, away from harmful UV light and of necessity, away from public view.  

Analyzing these historic photographs, we can see an eighty-year time lapse of the ink doing its damage.  The black and white photograph above and to the left is from Jacob Baart de la Faille’s 1928 premier catalogue raisonné des œuvres de Vincent van Gogh. The color photo above and to the right is from the Van Gogh archive. The image today is sadly almost unrecognizable and shows in detail just how severely the artist's purple ink drawing has faded, now just a former brown shadow of its former self.

Curiously, the images in the newly discovered sketchbook, reproduced in this YouTube video, remain crisp and vibrant, now matter how clumsily they were executed.  


By comparison, photographs of Van Gogh's drawings inside his four sketchbooks in the Van Gogh collection show that the artist's own drawings have not fared near as well.  Each of them has been preserved in the following digital collection albums:





Comparing the two, not as a professional curator, which I am not, but as a curious writer, I would ask Professor Welsh-Ovcharov why she thinks that the famous painter would have stopped using purple or black ink, switching to seppia shallac ink in this newly-found sketchbook, only to then revert back to CV ink later?  

I would also ask her why the sketches in the four Van Gogh Museum sketchbooks represent more rudimentary imagery than the more elaborate "doodles" she feels were drawn by Van Gogh this long lost album.

By: Lynda Albertson










 true then it would be the fifth known intact sketchbook Vincent van Gogh. The four previous examples date  and were previously published as a facsimile edition. 

February 2, 2016

Tuesday, February 02, 2016 - , No comments

"Picasso" Painting Recovered in Turkey is Deemed a Fake

The purported Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) canvas of “Woman Dressing Her Hair” seized by Turkish authorities has been deemed a fake on Monday by the Paris-based Picasso Administration, charged with managing the artist's estate.   Agence France-Presse confirmed with New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that the original artwork, a portrait of Dora Maar, remains safe and is part of their collection.

Image Credit AFP
The Picasso Administration issued a statement saying "the painting seized in Istanbul is a copy" of the famous 1940 work by the great Spanish artist.

Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to others and often involve famous artists or artists who's work can be easily duplicated. 

Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques as well as digital and paper catalogue raisonné -- the most comprehensive, authoritative resource for authentication help to make the identification of forged artwork much simpler to identify. 





November 18, 2015

Price and Provenance

Record prices were achieved at auctions last week with Chinese billionaires leading the way.

On the 11th of November, a Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau bought an exceptional 12 carat blue diamond, known as the Blue Moon for CHF 48.634 /US$ 48.5 million at Sotheby’s in Geneva, the highest price ever paid for a gemstone at auction, adding to his already large collection of art, jewellery and fine wines. 

On the 9th of November, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché was sold in New York for US$ 170.4 million, achieving a record for the hapless artist ranking in the top ten list of the most expensive paintings ever sold.  The name of the bidder from China was revealed to be Liu Yiqian, a Shanghai billionaire collector, who is already famous for his Ming Dynasty “Chicken Cup” bought for HK$ 281.24 million / US$36.05 million  in April 2014, the highest price ever paid for Chinese porcelain at an auction. 

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), ‘Nu couché, painted in 1917-18

Modigliani was the artist of the week. Only a few days earlier on 4th November, another painting by Modigliani Paulette Jourdain was sold for US$ 42.8 million, well above its estimate, at Sotheby’s otherwise lacklustre sale of the collection of its former owner A. Alfred Taubman. Sotheby´s identified the buyer as a private Asian collector. 

Before these trophy items go behind the thick security doors, residents and visitors in Hong Kong had a chance to inspect them in person a month earlier together with other luxury collectables, exhibited as part of the auction houses’ highlight tours to stimulate the region’s increasingly eclectic taste in art. The costly campaign of the rivalling auction houses probably paid off. 

Anyone who fancies a Modigliani nude, yet are without the wherewithal needed, can still decorate their walls with a lookalike copy, skilfully handmade in Southern China. The chance that your friends may spot it as a reproduction is probably about 10%, as with the case of the fresh copy of the 18th century portrait Young Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard of bought online for GBP£ 70 for the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s project ‘Made in China’ project earlier this year. Even the Gallery’s curators were marvelled at the skill of the Chinese copyist although they insist that we should be able to easily spot the difference with closer scrutiny. 

But can we really?

It is a bitter fact that many large-scale conspiracies such as Beltracchi and Knoedler/Pei-Shen Quian were not uncovered for more than a decade. In China, it took nearly 10 years until someone eventually spotted at a Hong Kong auction house that a former librarian, Xiao Yuan, stole 143 Chinese master paintings from the library of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and replaced them with his copies. His copies were again substituted for further fakes. 

Living artists’ works can also be copied. Recently a Chinese auction house withdrew a living artist’s painting from its sale in Hong Kong after the artist himself challenged the authenticity of the work, which was presumed to be destroyed in 1989 and allegedly repainted in 1992, according to the very artist’s letter provided by the seller. As demonstrated in this case, it can be difficult to prove authenticity even for contemporary art in the Chinese art system, where credible documentation is often not in place. The distinction between a copy and a forgery is not fully recognised in the local culture, nor is the importance of a work's collection history, often referred to as an artwork's provenance. As demonstrated in the recently concluded exhibition “Copyleft Appropriation Art in China” at Power Station of Art in Shanghai, the concept of appropriation may be very different between China and the West. 

The free port that is Hong Kong has become one of the world’s largest art marketplaces and is consolidating its status as the region’s main art hub with the expected opening in 2019 of an iconic new public museum M+. Overshadowing the luminosity, Hong Kong also has a reputation as a playground for the illicit trading of counterfeits and smuggled artworks, many of which are transported in bulk from Mainland China. 

Recognising this growing issue, one which has been undermining the credibility and further development of the region’s art market, a group of experts with respective backgrounds in art, insurance, forensics, crime prevention, security and commercial risk management founded a local art risk consultancy TrackArt in 2011. Based in Hong Kong, it is the first and, currently, only provider of forensic DNA coding services for artworks in Asia. 

Together with cataloguing and recovery assistance services, TrackArt’s DNA coding secures the artwork’s onwards chain of provenance and validates future identification, which works most effectively in the primary market if applied in the artist’s studio. Using licenced technology from a UK technology partner, TrackArt offers more than one format of DNA suitable for various types of materials and surfaces of paintings, works on paper, antiquities, ceramics, etc. 

It’s high time the art market learnt the importance of securing the provenance of artworks, both now and in the future.

Here is a link to TrackArt’s website

-----
(Selected information sources)

Dulwich Picture Gallery ‘Made in China’ Project
http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/about/press-media/press-releases/fragonards-young-woman-revealed-as-replica-in-made-in-china-project/

Chinese curator’s forgery
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/22/china/china-art-forgery/

Geng Jianyi’s claim
http://theartnewspaper.com/market/art-market-news/159750/

Shanghai’s Power Station of Art’s current exhibition, Copyleft
http://www.powerstationofart.com/en/exhibition/detail/735erz.html

Is it plagiarism or is it ‘shanzhai
http://theartnewspaper.com/news/159569/




February 17, 2015

The Stakes are in the Stroke: "Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project"

Photograph: Robert Sanderson for the BBC
By Liza Weber, ARCA '14 Alumna

In 1811 Sir John Soane drew up the blueprint for Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s first public art gallery. That is, Sir Radical Soane drew up a template for how to house Francis Bourgeois’ first-class private collection: open its Bourgeois doors to the public. Two centuries on and the template—save for the ticket price—has not been tampered with. For where the conceptual artist, Doug Fishbone, today asks the public to discern the dud in the gallery’s Permanent Collection of Claude’s to Canaletto’s, its welcome mat is down.

But a dud, mind you, that is meant to spark—spark intrigue, in anyone who has ever suspected that a Christmas gift was too-leather-good-to be-true. Intrigue in you, the sceptic. Spotting the fake from the fortune is not reserved for the BBC-coiffed-likes of Fiona Bruce as she uncovers, in the attic, ancestors with considerable assets. Spotting the fake from the fortune is as good a guess yours as it is (t)heirs.

Made in China, somewhere South. Mailed to Dulwich, South London. Mailed with a questionable £120 invoice (supposedly Meishing Oil Painting Manufacture Company kept the carbon copy). And at last hung in the frame belonging to the fortune. All within the dead of night.

Photograph: Robert Sanderson for the BBC
When the 10th morning of February was broken, I donned my detective hat to try my eye at the collection’s 270 paintings for the counterfeit thing. Ok, I lie. I tried my eye at about a dozen. My reasoning? 
1. The painting had to be at eye-level. To hang it in the upper echelons of the burgundy galleries would be a gesture, paradoxically, below the belt. 
2.  It was French. 
The French bit was an itch. A hunch. Over something, something perhaps remembered…

French Art was particularly popular post-WWII, which meant that a great number of fakes surfaced to supply the demand. They have been washing-up like driftwood ever since. French Law—as if to build a dam—allowed the confiscation and burning of counterfeit works at the behest of the artist’s estate. (I think it still does.) A French fake then is about high stakes. If Fishbone genuinely had a bone to pick with authenticity, or lack thereof, he surely would have pitched his conceptual stakes high? Call my reasoning what you will, the fact is, I’m an art critic in the making and freelance, so with nothing much to lose. Here goes my guess.

It was a toss-up between Nicolas Poussin’s
1.  'Landscape with Travellers Resting (or A Roman Road)', 1648
2.  'The Triumph of David', c.1628-31
It was the frame around the frame of the former that found me suspicious:
1.  The wall panel text read This canvas seems to have been painted as a pair to the ‘Landscape with a Man washing his Feet at a Fountain (or A Greek Road)’ now in the National Gallery London. I am always wary of a wall text that finds space, in less than 100 words, to use up one with ‘seems’. I am looking at some sort of semblance—a likeness, image, or copy of. Seeing double. X-ray examinations show that the canvas was first used for a partial copy of Poussin’s ‘Moses trampling Pharaoh’s Crown’, now in the Louvre. Now I am seeing triple. Why ever not a fourth?
2.  The gallery walls, an unforgiving Payne’s grey, were scuffed here, there, in fact, everywhere. Fresh tracks of movement. But tracks that you would be, if anything, lazy not to cover up with a lick of paint. No, it was all too obvious…
Plus Poussin’s travellers are behind a pane of glass. It is simply impractical to get up close and personal. And yet ‘close and personal’ is exactly what Dulwich Picture Gallery is asking of its visitors. No, this Poussin is too obscured from fine observation.

‘The Triumph of David’ is comparatively clear. One of Poussin’s most studied and cerebral compositions, it is the focal point of the French room, bordered by a burgundy archway and a beckoning chaise longue. Come sit it says. So I stand, an inch-close to the canvas. Load a Google image on my iPhone. Compare physical with pixelated paint. There is something altogether off here:
1. Look at the cracked foundation in the lower left corner; its fallen stone fragments. Count the sandal straps. Follow the extraordinary length of the ladies fingers, pointing here, there, no there. This is geometry. That art historical school that gallery director Ian Dejardin distrusts for trying too hard to tie down the imprecise phenomenon of artistic composition. A school that is perhaps here apt. Getting close and personal means to study not merely the flatness of the piece (for every Fake is, according to the guess-pert, Flat), but the properties and relations of points, lines, surfaces, and solids. It is perhaps then time to take a solid seat. And stare a while longer. 
2. For this Poussin is the Director’s Choice. Which is to say, ‘The Triumph of David’ made it into Dejardin’s selected 37 paintings for book publication. It made the cut. Why not a copy? Remember, Doug Fishbone is in collaboration with Dejardin. His choice matters.
Plus this is a painting of a procession, a procession—Dejardin reminds us—that passes through a representative section of humanity where every gesture and action is significant. If Fishbone and Dejardin wanted to stress the whole(sale) sordid affair of Chinese Studios, and their replicas as downright disruptive to the Market, they would have surely stressed it in a painting where every stroke counts?

To conclude let me approach the one big question—the one big question Fishbone and Dejardin set to Xylophone tones in their video trailer for the project—
Does it have an aura?
I won’t bore you with Walter Benjamin. For now, let us just agree that the aura is in the waiting. The reveal: 28th April 2015. I, for one, am counting.
And as I count I discover that I was not the only one staring at the Poussin on the 10th morning of February. The Daily Mail caught a lady on the chaise longue. She was donning a red beret. How Very French.  

Ms. Weber is a freelance journalist.

For additional reading on this subject, please follow this link to Angelina Giovani's piece on the blog "plundered art", a perspective from the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. Angie is also an ARCA alumna.

October 7, 2014

ARCA’s network assists in getting two fake de Hory forgeries withdrawn from sale

By Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Trustee and Lecturer

On Saturday 4 October 2015 an article appeared in the online edition of The New Zealand Herald, a national newspaper in New Zealand, about two forgeries by the well-known forger Elmyr de Hory, coming up for public auction. 

The article ran under images of one of the forgeries alongside a genuine Monet:


The article said:

Two "Monet" paintings by a legendary art forger have surfaced at an Auckland auction. ... While Monet originals fetch millions, the two fakes will have reserves of only $1000 each when they go under the hammer at Cordy's auction house on Tuesday.
"They are colourful and nice paintings, but you don't look at them and think, 'Boy, that's an amazing masterpiece'," said auctioneer Andrew Grigg.
"They don't look like a real Monet - the detail, the quality of the originals would be just absolutely amazing."

The article described how the two paintings were said to have been purchased from de Hory by one Ken Talbot:

Retired London bookmaker Ken Talbot, ... owned more than 400 de Hory works that adorned every wall of his plush Regents Park townhouse.
Now, an Auckland descendent who inherited two items from him is selling two "Claude Monet" paintings.

A member of the ARCA family, Penny Jackson, Director of the Tauranga Art Gallery here in New Zealand, first spotted the article.  The link to the article then went to curator and art fraud specialist Colette Loll who attended courses at the inaugural ARCA Postgraduate program in 2009, and is the founder and director of Art Fraud Insights (http://www.artfraudinsights.com.

Mark Forgy is de Hory’s heir and author of 'TheForger’s Apprentice: Life with the World’s Most Notorious Artist’ (2012), a memoir of his life with de Hory up until de Hory’s untimely death in 1976. Colette Loll and Mark Forgy have collaborated significantly on several projects including a book, documentary film and Colette’s exhibition, ‘Intent to Deceive’ (www.intenttodeceive.org), for which Mark was a major lender.

Ms. Loll immediately sent the article on to Mr. Forgy.

Closing the circle, Mark Forgy then emailed the auctioneers, Cordy’s in Auckland, New Zealand.  He said to them:

“Please be aware that Talbot himself was a con man who established a robust cottage industry of fabricating phony works by de Hory. I write about Talbot in my book ‘The Forger's Apprentice : Life with the World's Most Notorious Artist’. I was de Hory's friend, personal assistant and am his sole legal heir. I authenticate his works. I assure you that the painting you intend to auction in the manner of Claude Monet is NOT by de Hory.  I have added this bogus de Hory to scores of others I've harvested from online auction sites.

Mark later commented:

When I said that Talbot started a cottage industry of fabricating phony works by Elmyr, he wasn't the painter of them. Talbot had others do the fake Elmyrs. I suspect they came from some Asian source, but I can't be certain.

The next day, on the morning of the auction, Tuesday 7 October, news came through that Cordy’s had commendably and immediately withdrawn the two paintings from sale.  Under the headline ‘Auction House Pulls Paintings When Told Forgeries Faked’, Mark Forgy is quoted in the follow-up article in the New Zealand Herald:

"Talbot fabricated an oft-told story that he acquired hundreds of works by Elmyr in exchange for unpaid loans. All this is just nonsense," Forgy said yesterday. Forgy now monitors online auction sites for fake de Hory works and has added the latest pair to the collection.
He said the irony of the famous faker himself being copied "is never lost on me".
"The subject of others forging his works came up only one time. We both contemplated that for a moment and then laughed at the far-fetched notion," he said.
Auctioneer Andrew Grigg confirmed their withdrawal from today's antique and art sale.
"Of course it is never our intention to deceive and we were not aware that the faker's works were faked," he said.

So, within a few short days of the initial article being published online, ARCA's network was instrumental in helping to ensure that these forgeries of de Hory’s forgeries of two "Monets" were not wrongly sold to an unsuspecting buyer who might have purchased them because they were, as it initially seemed, ‘genuine’ forgeries. 

Mark Forgy, reflecting on how this all unfolded, comments:

I think the issue of "fake fakes" merits attention in that it speaks to the deeply flawed art market. It brings art fraud to another level of criminal inventiveness. More alarmingly, we see a marketplace that incentivizes such activity for the lack of regulation of the art trade. The loopholes in the safety net (if one exists) are welcoming portals for anyone intent on committing larceny. One inescapable irony is that art never seems to gather as much attention as when its authenticity is questioned, and through this examination process these fraudsters hold up a mirror, showing us who we are as a society, our values, and how we view art. So, in an unintended way, they become our social conscience. No, there's no lack of irony here.


Ironies all round indeed ...

July 18, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: James Moore on "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté"

James C. Moore presenting at ARCA conference in Amelia
(Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Retired trial lawyer James C. Moore presented "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté" in the first presentation of ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Amelia on June 28.

Moore discussed how the Manhattan gallery, which had sold art since 1856 only to fall upon hard times in the middle of the 20th century, had drifted away from selling Old Masters and Cubist art to modern works where the competition was intense to gain access to the art.

Facing bankruptcy by the end of the 1960s, the gallery was sold to Armand Hammer in 1971 for $2.5 million. Under Hammer's leadership, Ann Freedman was hired a salesperson, but when ownership passed to Armand’s grandson Michael, he appointed Freedman director of the gallery with a focus on contemporary and abstract artists such as Rothko, de kooning, Diebenkorn, Motherwell, and Pollack.

In the early 1990s, Glafira Rosales appeared at the art gallery and showed Freedman an unknown Rothko sketch she claimed had been owned by a “Mr. X”, a closeted gay Filipino or Swiss man who had begun collecting abstract expressionist works which he had stored in Mexico – or Switzerland -- with the assistance of a New York art dealer, David Herbert. Rosales told Freeman that Mr. X had died and that his son -- identified only as "Mr. X, Jr." -- had decided to liquidate his father’s collection. And to do so, the paintings would be consigned, one at a time, to the Knoedler Gallery. Beginning in 1994, Rosales bought paintings every 3-6 months for a total of 40 works and agreed to sell them to the Knoedler Gallery for a fixed amount. Freeman would offer paintings for sale at higher prices – hanging the works in other shows by the artists, preparing write-ups, claiming that her experts had viewed the works although they had not authenticated them. In total, the Knoedler Gallery received $64 million for 40 paintings of which Rosales received $20 million.

In early 2000s, a Knoedler Gallery client bought a work ‘by Jackson Pollack’ for $2 million but after the painting failed authentication, the painting was returned and the purchase price refunded. Other similar events followed -- Sotheby’s would not sell a ‘Pollack’ in 2011, and when the owner asked for a $17 million refund, the gallery closed its doors.

The Knoedler Gallery has been named in eight lawsuits, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun an investigation of Ann Freedman, Glafira Rosales, and Rosales’ long-time companion Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who worked in a restaurant in New York City and sold art in the Chelsea district, along with Diaz's brother. According to Rosales, all of the paintings she sold to the Knoedler were fakes and were allegedly created by a 75-year-old artist, Pei-shen Qian, who was asked to create art in the style of abstract expressionist artists for people who could not afford originals. 

Before Rosales was arrested, Diaz went back to Spain and Qian went to China. Rosales pled guilty for collecting money and paying no income taxes (she sent the money to Spain). Rosales now faces sentencing up to 20 years. She is cooperating with federal authorities possibly in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence. Spain has been asked to send Diaz back to the U.S. to face charges.

Moore posed the question of accountability: 
Was Freedman actively or passively involved in the forgery scheme? No one but the buyers suing her has accused her of a crime. In fact, she sued a dealer for defamation who accused her of lack of care. Negligence (lack of care in verifying a paintings provenance) claims against dealers and galleries cannot be maintained when the parties have a contract relationship. The wording of the agreement between the parties, therefore, will be critical to the success or failure of the buyer's claim.

Moore also discussed the relative responsibilities of the gallery, the dealer, the expert authenticators and the buyer in fake painting claims.  Ultimately, Moore noted that as of this time, Rosales is free on bail, Freedman is running another gallery and is named as a defendant in eight lawsuits, the Diaz brothers are hoping not to leave Spain, and Qian is conducting art shows in Beijing.
  

Moore, an accomplished trial lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, is also a student of art history. http://www.jamesconklinmoore.com/