Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fooling with the Faux, the Fake and the Forgery

Would you be able to tell which of these is the real Picasso, just by looking?

What are the chances that the Picasso print you paid the big bucks for at auction is the real thing? Was it Sherman who wrote that note that's the centerpiece of your Civil War collection, or maybe Sherman Schwartz, the master forger? Do you know how to research the provenance (ownership history) of an object of art or memorabilia, preferably before buying it?

It's not just a matter of a few frauds out there that you might stumble onto. The burgeoning forgery industry has become so vigorous, according to
an article in Art Business News, your chances of acquiring the genuine article are sinking below fifty percent!
  • If it was marketed through Hong Kong, its likelihood of being original is something like 25%, according to research by Smithsonian Magazine.
  • The FBI says some 70% of the signed memorabilia in circulation is bogus.
  • The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) concluded that a disappointing 10-20% of the works they've researched were the real thing.
Scary, huh? Looks like your options are to 1) jump into the cesspool and trade in faux because "everybody else does it" and if you were fooled, the next guy can be fooled, 2) avoid the art market entirely, or 3) Smarten up and learn to do your own research.

Call me Pollyanna, but I glimpse a silver lining in this dark cloud. If you put as much energy into researching a piece (admittedly a boring enterprise for most of us) as you do in hunting it down (the exciting part), and you come up with proof of its authenticity, you have a shot at an investment that will only become more valuable as the fakes continue to flood the market. You can't always count on the information a dealer provides. It's not in his best interest to open that can of worms, lest he turn out to be humiliated or, worse, get a reputation as a purveyor of fakes.

Here's a good place to start your own detective work: Nicholas Forrest, founder of the Art Market Blog has provided a list of reliable resources for researching provenance that could come in handy if you're planning to bid on a particular item at auction, or see an item on the market that you've been looking for. A few hours' research can make a big difference. And who knows? You might even enjoy it. Thanks, Nick!

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