Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is It Real Art or Artifice--and Why You Should Care.Learn Before You Buy a Forgery!

"The real Picasso"
“If the counterfeit were a good one, I should be delighted. I’d sit down straight away and sign it.” Picasso

Picasso had a light-heated view toward forgeries. However, given the billions of dollars invested in the art market today, we cannot afford to be so cavalier. As more art works flood the markets and demand for art at a level high, there is an accompanying increase in forgeries. To make art buyers feel more comfortable, however, they should be reminded that there have been art forgeries as long as there has been art. Ancient art collectors and new collectors both have been victimized. But a potential buyer should--and can--be prepared.

This blog is not the place for a scholarly thesis on the complete history of forgeries, but if the reader is so inclined, he or she can research the subject using many useful books available and information on the web. A good starting point is below for those who want to learn more about the history of art forgery:

"The Fake Picasso"
To be honest (to make a bad pun), everyone who is serious about starting a collection of art even if they are starting with only one piece, should study this subject as the art world today is like the wild west, a 24 hour carnival or even a gigantic used car showroom. The Latin phrase "caveat emptor", or buyer beware, has never seemed more apropos than now.

Especially vulnerable--and tempting-- to unscrupulous sellers are works by Miro, Chagall, Degas and Picasso. Salesmen count on the fact that these artists created pieces that are easy to understand and instantly recognizable I cannot tell you how many thousands of signed Miro prints I have seen at art sales, auctions and exhibits since commencing my studies in Art History in New York. However, any artist whose works have monetary value can and will be forged. Even Vermeer is unscathed after some false attributions and even forgeries were discovered.

                         Laughing Girl once attributed to Vermeer is now thought to be by a notorious forger

As you stroll through an auction preview or a gallery, be prepared and do your homework and research beforehand. To have a work of art authenticated by an art expert after you have already bought it is very expensive. The best thing to do is to study those artists whose works you would like to buy--before you buy them. If you plan on spending more than $100.00, be extra diligent with your purchase.

Go to museums, look through art books, talk to dealers who have been in the business a long time and learn enough to trust your instincts. If a Picasso 'edition' ceramic plate looks very new and has stamps on the bottom without a signature by the artist, I would leave this item on the shelf and not bring it home. A Degas print made after the death of Degas is a dead giveaway that the print is a forgery. Beware also of falsified certifications, documents, or provenances. Unfortunately, those who sell art created by the most popular artists are more likely to be dealing in fakes. Know your artist by studying their work and know your dealer.

Better yet, find a local art walk in your town or a neighborhood art gallery showing modern, local work and explore those.  Meet artists in your community and have them invite you to their studio.The more you learn about art, the more you will leave your comfort zone. Those artists whose works are mass produced will lose their appeal to you. Eventually you will avoid the art "Art R Us" places and will happily buy work by a talented newcomer who had a recent photography show in your library. Art is a lot like wine: the more you experience it,  the more you learn.

There has been a huge surge in forgeries recently, even at prestigious auction houses and famous museums An educated curator or art historian is not perfect and can be fooled too. Traveling art shows 'curated' by various art galleries and companies can be especially noxious. Often claiming to show works by such and such artists, they may exhibit either forgeries or multiple editions, or both. These shows mislead the public and continue the cycle of forged artworks.

Smaller museums and art venues should be especially cautious when utilizing the services of one of these traveling art companies. It would be better to use very well known names such as the Smithsonian or Library of Congress if a location is unable to put an art show together on its own The Smithsonian, for example, has many very interesting traveling shows that would appeal to lots of museum goers--and they are very affordable. Other trusted sources are universities who have prepared exhibits ready to show featuring various genres appealing to different audiences. Also, a museum director could look to her own community and put put a call for art and for exhibit proposals in the local paper and some willing citizens could turn up and create a simple, one-of-a kind show that would be quite successful.

Forger in China at work creating a fake Van Gogh

For all those who love art, just keep up the romance, but don't be fooled. There are too many gigolos out there who want to make a fast profit and are ethically dishonest. Don't be left at the altar holding your Degas sculpture having just learned the ballerina was a mirage and that she already cashed your check!

Real Art with Artist Toby Krein explaining her painting to a viewer

For the next installment of this blog on the subject of forgeries, 
I will explore some actual case studies of art forgers who were put into jail, including a close friend of mine.

Nancy Vicknair is an Art Historian with degrees from NYU and Columbia with the highest honors. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and loves to do research. Vicknair has been a self-employed publicist for Bay Area artists and galleries for ten years and has worked on more than 1,000 art events in Northern California. She is also a consultant specializing in event planning, art gallery design,medieval art, Carolingian coinage and art by her ancestors:H.A.White and Edwin White. Currently, she has commenced a fictional novel based on the adolescent years of her cousins Aaron and Matthias Ogden and their best friend Aaron Burr during their early days in New Jersey leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Contact Nancy for more information at nancydesk{{at}}

Sketch by my ancestor, Edwin White,
for his painting "Mayflower Compact"


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