Tags: art | fake art | paintings

Con Artists Wildly Successful

Tuesday, 09 September 2014 02:58 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Few people have the vast amount of knowledge and proper professional qualifications to be considered an art expert. To become a conversant art scholar, authenticator, appraiser, dealer, curator, agent, or advisor — one identified as an expert, takes decades of hands on experience. It also requires diligent research, study, organizing of exhibitions, and a keen unprejudiced sense of what is authentic, top quality, and valuable.

Insightful, clear thinking authorities are humbled by historical data and cautious when forming opinions. They acknowledge and change errors in judgment; accept as possible the wisdom of others; ceaselessly study old and new schools of thought, ever-evolving artistic techniques, artist’s developments, innovations, and achievements.

A respected art expert is aware of how painting methodologies have evolved and can determine what defines the superior from inferior, the authentic from counterfeit.

He or she is able to recognize how a painting relates in eminence and substance to an artist’s life work and any particular artistic school related to it, in order to make serious determinations regarding its relevance or lack of it. An art expert assesses validity, historical relevance and impartially and accurately evaluates and takes pride in candidly presenting what is true in an untainted manner.

It is essential an expert be able to judge quickly the approximate date and origin of a painting, discerning how to identify correctly centuries of paper watermarks, canvas weaves, types of wood, as well as the composition of paper boards to designate age and origin.

The expert is able to classify a genuine or counterfeit signature and the overall condition of an artwork.

The more a person studies, the more is detected and understood. Inquisitive probing leads to discovery and insight. In one life span, no one can scrutinize all aspects of art, thus bona fide experts consult others.

To solemnly study art history is a never ending quest for truth and that is the beauty and the challenge of scholarship that leads to fresh perception, more questions and hopefully intelligent, thoughtful answers.

As art is examined and debated, histories unravel and realities are exposed.

Research and visual study educates one’s eyes to identify accurately.

Those who claim to know it all are unrealistic or egotistical. Anyone who thinks he or she is the only person who can judge an artist’s work, may need his or her head examined. No person has allthe answers or solutions to formulate accurate opinions about each school of artistic thought, or comprehends how and why every artist worldwide painted and lived.

Those parading as all knowing art gods play a dangerous game. Art dealer scholars who humbly admit they have a lot more to learn probably make the best experts, give the finest advice, and treat others fairly.

Naïve art buyers often are made to believe friendly, unqualified antique and flea market dealers or fly by night art consultants with no art backgrounds are art experts. A few years ago, an antique dealer incorrectly advised a client to purchase — for $115,000 — a pleasant looking oil painting on canvas of a woman rowing a boat that was signed in the lower right A.T. Bricher — American, 1837-1908. The client handed the antique dealer a check without questioning the painting’s authenticity, its provenance, or the dealer’s expertise.

The buyer did not know the canvas upon which the scene was painted was made approximately 65 years after the artist’s death. A forger had relined the painting’s new canvas with an old, tightly woven, discolored 19th-century canvas. When the buyer had the painting appraised, he was outraged to learn it had a value of no more than $500. It was a contemporary forgery. When he demanded the antique dealer refund his $115,000, she claimed she sold the painting as “a copy for decoration.”

The Bill of Sale read, “One oil painting, $115,000.” The buyer lost his investment. He accepted as valid bogus data given to him by a stranger, simply because he wanted to find a bargain.

Victor Weiner, executive director of the Appraisers Association of America says fakes are a growing cottage industry. One reason is, it is not a crime in the U.S. to sell phony art and antiques — if a seller claims it was unintentional.

When swindlers are questioned, few admit they deliberately sell fakes.

The ethics and knowledge of biographers should be questioned when their focus is on selling the work of those they authenticate. In the March 24, 1997 issue of Forbes, an article by Doris Athineos titled “The boom in fakes”, on page 200, tells how Erwin Flacks authored the book Maxfield Parrish and then sold counterfeit Parrish watercolors as authentic works. The Maxfield Parrish Family Trust rejects the watercolors as forgeries. Erwin Flacks also sold actress Whoopi Goldberg 5 fake Parrish drawings. Whoopi sued Flacks and his wife Gail.

Prominent dealers told Goldberg the drawings were incorrect.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s refused to auction them.

Ironically, "After a two year court battle,” wrote Athineos, “Flacks collected in excess of $100,000”, from an insurance company as a settlement for liable and reportedly paid back Goldberg $45,000 and kept $55,000." Those who authenticate fakes as real and then sell them should be put out of business and prosecuted, not rewarded.

Whoopi Goldberg observed correctly that honest dealers who fear litigation or slander often do not come forward to tell the truth. If honest dealers panic or think candor will cost them dearly in time and litigation, they often are reluctant to give forthright opinions. Those who mastermind crimes count on others to cower out. However, there are still a few brave souls who abide by the truth and state it, no matter what.

They should be applauded and revered.

Courts often rule on the side of the unscrupulous because judges and experts find it difficult to assess what is or is not authentic and often cannot determine if a dealer who points out forgeries is stating fact, or if a negative evaluation is given to win the trust and business of another dealer’s client.

Those who knowingly sell forgeries seek ignorant, fervent buyers who rarely question the authenticity or legal title of what they purchase. Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of "False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes" — Simon and Schuster, called selling forgeries “the most marvelous crime . . . Lots of money to be made without penalty,” Forbes, March 24, 1997, at page 203.

In Colin Simpson’s article “Artful Partners”, Connoisseur, October 1986, Simpson observed how the once illustrious art historian Bernard Berenson was treated.
“[He was] revered as the incorruptible dealer, an island of probity surrounded by a sea of sharks. But . . . now comes cause to change this prevailing view. Bernard Berenson, the great art historian who died in 1959, was a scoundrel who cold bloodedly misattributed paintings so that they could be sold for vastly inflated sums and [he] took his cut of the profits.”

Berenson’s partner-in-crime was the dealer to the rich, Joseph Duveen. The Connoisseur article states the two men “fleeced museums and millionaire collectors” and rightly tells how Berenson and Duveen have proven an embarrassment to an art world that foolishly revered them as experts and demi gods. Not only did the duo sell forgeries to major museums worldwide, they easily duped some of the wealthiest, most prominent collectors, scholars, and dealers.

Colin Simpson says of Duveen, “He was amoral. . . . If someone got in his way, he just trampled on him. He certainly dealt with a lot of crooks and he never reported them or did anything to stop them.  . . . A few dealers knew what was going on. But, dog doesn’t eat dog when reputations, credibility and money are at stake."

The Berenson and Duveen scandal sent shock waves through the art world, probably because no one wanted collectors to know how two famous art scholar dealers scammed some of the finest art minds.

Sadly, the news of their uncouth acts has not had a lasting effect.

Others do exactly as they did and are ignored or go undetected.

Devious sharks continue to pollute the waters in the richest society pools because that’s where compulsive untutored buying runs rampant. Crafty scoundrels massage the egos and stroke the trust of dilettantes to earn a lot of money from sales of close to worthless art. They realize many socially prominent, untrained, novice buyers rarely admit making purchasing mistakes. It is even less common for one of them to return art and ask for a refund. That might result in a news release that could cost them prestige worth far more than the price of their fakes.

As the duped remain silent, many of their walls stay filled with questionable, poorly painted, forged canvases and reproductions giving the appearance to untrained eyes of being refined originals. Few say anything negative to conned affluent art owners because they fear their rejection.

Dishonest sellers flourish because the hoodwinked andtheir friends lack backbone.

Greed and the lust for power often produce a mercenary mentality.To gain a buyer’s loyalty, so called experts often point accusatory fingers at those not agreeing with their points of view. The maligned have the burden of proving the validity of credentials and trustworthiness, but accusers usually are not asked to verify their statements. When blatant lies are believed, a noble person can be discredited, losing professional standing, clientele, and earnings by virtue of a scoundrel’s beguiling remarks.

It happens frequently in all walks of life, when vast amounts of money are at stake.

People in professions where millions of dollars can be lost or gained in one transaction know that by tarnishing the character of ethical competitors they remove from a contest those who threaten the dishonest person’s financial security,reputation or opportunity for advancement.

Experts have an obligation to make it public whenever a dealer or gallery is promoting and selling misrepresented or fake art, but commonly those at fault act swiftly to sue or point an accusatory finger at the gutsy whistleblower.

The truth is obscured or ignored, with the whistleblower often perceived as the bad guy.

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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A respected art expert is aware of how painting methodologies have evolved and can determine what defines the superior from inferior, the authentic from counterfeit.
art, fake art, paintings
Tuesday, 09 September 2014 02:58 PM
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