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Authentication Process Is Becoming Impossible

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Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 08:57 AM Current | Bio | Archive

An increasing number of artist foundations and scholars refuse to give definitive authentication opinions or publish authoritative catalogue raisonnés because they fear being sued by sellers and buyers who might become disgruntled with their conclusions and omissions.

Bribes, death threats, and lawsuits plague the authenticating world, but despite all of that, important artist estates that have ended authenticating practices are beginning to sue sellers and auctioneers because they weren’t asked for their opinions.

How convoluted is that?

Patricia Cohen of The New York Times reported this week that the Jean-Michel Basquiat estate is suing Christie’s because the auction house did not ask the estate’s opinion about the authenticity of certain works it is offering in an online auction.

One painting the estate is questioning was mentioned in the 1998 biography by Phoebe "Hoban Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art" and is owned by one of Basquiat’s roommates, but a jittery Christie’s withdrew the piece from auction.

Why didn’t Christie’s ask the estate for an opinion? Because the estate disbanded its authentication committee in 2012!

On another front, a Swiss dealer in federal court asserted that Alexander Calder's estate blocked a Christie’s sale of a $1 million sculpture by claiming that his mobile entitled "Eight Black Leaves" is a fragment of a larger work.


The dealer claims Calder sold the sculpture to Gerald Cramer in 1948 as a "fully integrated work" and Cramer displayed it as complete in his Geneva gallery.

Cramer's son tried unsuccessfully to obtain an inventory number for the work from the Calder Foundation. Although Calder authenticators say the piece is a genuine fragment, they refused to give it a Calder number. The Swiss dealer claims their decision dramatically hurts the value of the piece and makes it arduous to sell.

In Manhattan, nine collectors seeking $40 million in damages in a federal district court lawsuit sued the Keith Haring Foundation and its directors for publically labeling the Haring paintings they own as “fakes” and “wrongfully destroying” the value of their art without taking into consideration provenance information.

From 2008-2011, the Keith Haring foundation sold $4.5 million worth of paintings. When it ended its authentication committee in 2012, the lawsuit argues the foundation limited the number of authentic Haring works in the public domain, so that the paintings the foundation and its members own will go up in value, and — without proper authentication — everyone else’s Harings will go down in value or be unsellable.

Other artist’s estates have stopped authenticating and may face future lawsuits, as well. A scholar’s art opinion can make or demolish a fortune and as prices for masterworks continue to go up, so do the risks taken by authenticators, buyers and sellers.

If you are interested in owning a genuine work by Jackson Pollock, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, Willem deKooning and other art icons, make certain the piece is accompanied with a legitimate authentication certificate written by a world expert, or do not buy it. The art world commonly rejects as “fakes” master paintings with good provenances that have not been authenticated properly.

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.

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PatriciaPierce
The art authentication process is becoming very problematic.
art,gallery,authentication,christies
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2014-57-11
Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 08:57 AM
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