Wednesday 09th December 2015Pollock's Provenance
A group of paintings supposedly by the famed Abstract Expressionist artist Jackson Pollock are under close review by a team of experts after doubts were raised about the authenticity of the pieces. A whopping 30 paintings were being examined by UK-based Art Analysis & Research, an authentication firm that specializes in the forensic analysis of artwork. Of the larger group, 12 were found to use a paint pigment that wasn't commercially available before Pollock's untimely death in 1956.
The pigment in question, CI Pigment Yellow 74, could possibly have been used another way, but it creates an awkward situation for the Nevada gallery Classic Fine Art, which exhibited 6 of the paintings in question this past July at the Art Monaco fair. That wasn't the first time the works have been displayed, either - they have appeared variously at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas. Beyond the pigment problems, the provenance of the entire batch of 30 is thrown into question by a rather sketchy backstory filled with anonymous donors and suspiciously low prices.
The reports on the works in question by Art Analysis & Research are very specific: "The earliest forms of this class of pigment appeared on the commercial market in 1910 (PY1), with others following in the 1920s (such as PY4-6). However, the date of introduction of PY74 is commonly given in the literature as 1957. This consequently raises a number of issues."
They go on to suggest that more testing be done, and include the conjecture that it is possible that the manufacturers provided Pollock with a number of pigments before they were more generally commercially available, but it seems somewhat unlikely that this would have happened without any sort of record of the exchange taking place, either in Pollock's notes or correspondence, or the company's papers - surely it would have been quite a marketing coup to have a popular artist working with and testing new paint compositions.
Classic Fine Art leaves with a final word on the matter: “We will stand by the results, whatever they are.” Kudos to them for bearing up remarkably well under a bad situation, but here's hoping they haven't been duped. The world can always use more beautiful art, and unfortunately Pollock won't be making any more himself.
Posted on December 09th 2015 on 04:25pm
Wednesday 14th October 2015Fighting Forgery with DNA
Forgery is one of the most prominent and destructive problems affecting the art world today. When it's impossible to go a single week without a new headline about record breaking auction sales that are then trumped the next month or even the next week, there is a huge amount of incentive for forgers to practice their illicit craft. Conversely, of course, there is also a huge incentive for artists, auctioneers, and insurance companies responsible for proving provenance of various works to combat the forgeries using every possible means at their disposal. Sometimes, that means inventing brand new technologies that outside the capabilities of most forgers.
The newest of these technologies? Using synthetic DNA as a uniquely trackable chemical signature.
It sounds like a story out of science fiction, but we're now living in a time when technology is starting to push the very bounds of credulity. Synthetic DNA is not particularly a new idea in academic circles, but the prospect of using it in practical applications is on the very cutting edge of science at the moment. The idea of using it to prevent forgery is the brainchild of the Global Center for Innovation, a part of the State University of New York at Albany. After two years and $2 million USD of investment funds from ARIS Title Insurance Company, an insurance firm that specializes in art authentication, they finally have a procedure that may soon begin to be used in commercial applications.
“We wanted a marker that was very hard to locate and not prone to environmental issues or tampering,” said Robert J. Jones, president of SUNY Albany, speaking to the New York Times. Due to the rapidly increasing technical capabilities of forgers, many companies who used to regularly perform authentications have stopped providing that particular service, as the legal consequences of making a mistake can be staggeringly expensive. With this new technology, the synthetic DNA will permeate the work and can then be read later by authenticators. The information encoded in the DNA will create an encrypted link to a database that contains all the relevant information about the piece in question.
No matter how incredible it seems, it begs the question that as DNA sequencing technologies become more and more common, how long will this particular approach protect artists from fraud? Perhaps it's always been the case, but it seems like nothing more than the next step in the technological arms race between authenticators and forgers.
Posted on October 14th 2015 on 11:11pm
Wednesday 05th August 2015Conning the Art World
It's almost a Hollywood truism - everyone loves a good con movie. Whether it's because we love the pluck and daring involved, or the rogueish charm of a carefully flaunted set of rules (perhaps, deep down, many of us were wishing we could do the same), we can't seem to get enough of them. With auction prices at record highs, not to mention the fantastical and unquantifiable value of owning a masterpiece, the art world is constantly full of forgeries, and the cons that have to accompany them.
With that in mind, a number of books have been published recently on forgery and cons in the art world, and contain an impressively entertaining array of stories collected over the years and, in some cases, centuries. The Art of the Con, by Anthony M. Amore is one such book, which covers an impressive scope of crime, and understandably so - Amore is the chief investigator for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. If it seems strange to you that a museum might have an on-staff position of chief investigator (which inherently implies a number of other investigators also on staff), make sure to grab a copy of the book, and you'll see why it's necessary. From entertaining stories to examinations of the techniques used by master forgers, it's quite an enjoyable read.
The monetary rewards of art forgery are hardly the only motivations for the practice, however. Many artists have found themselves decried - or worse, ignored - by critics, only to take their skills to the black market and the lucrative crimes that follow in its wake.
As Noah Charney, the author of The Art of Forgery put it, “Many want recognition. They have real skills and tried hard to make their own successes, before turning to fakes and the multiple benefits they derived—proving to themselves they were as good as past masters and showing up the critics who had ignored their own works.” Another excellent look into the world of art forgeries, The Art of Forgery has some of the most mind-boggling stories of the fraudulent art and their artists, from dealers who duplicated their masterpieces and sold both originals and forgeries to an artistic forger who was so incensed by getting away with his crimes that he sued himself in court and received 20 months in jail as a result. Enjoy!
Posted on August 05th 2015 on 03:34pm
Wednesday 14th January 2015An Earlier Mona Lisa?
Whenever you start putting extremely high price tags on certain items, no matter what they are - ideas, types of metal, or old paintings - you're probably going to start seeing people creating fakes and forgeries. Impossible patents for processes that could never work, gold tainted with baser metals, or even... a brand new Mona Lisa?
A rather startling claim has been circulating for the last several years, one that might completely change the perspective of the world - at least, assuming it isn't exposed as a forgery. The claim is that before Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, one of his masterworks which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, he had already made at least one earlier painting of the same woman in the exact same pose - in effect, an earlier version of the iconic painting. The subject appears to be younger, and to some observers, more attractive, but it is doubtless intended to be the same woman.
Originally discovered in 1913 in a British manor house, the contested painting has been championed by the Mona Lisa Foundation, a non-profit which has given it full support on behalf of the owners of the painting itself. Nothing is known about what stake the foundation may or may not have in the sale of the painting, but they are aggressively promoting its veracity - albeit with little success in the art world, despite three solid years of campaigning on its behalf.
As strange as it may seem to those of us with a more cynical perspective on the human attitude towards value, there is some popular support of the veracity of the painting, although the experts remain extremely skeptical, to put it mildly. "I do not know of any major Leonardo scholar who has definitely accepted it," Martin Kemp, an Oxford art history professor said of the piece.
Its supporters, on the other hand, point the finger at orthodox narratives and doctrines, and the weight of reputations that stand to be ruined if the contested painting is accepted as genuine. David Feldman, vice-president of the Mona Lisa Foundation, said, "There is no easy way to get recognition and acceptance from the art world, particularly when connoisseurship in the traditional way is being challenged."
Posted on January 14th 2015 on 04:23pm
Friday 17th October 2014The Famous Forger Turned Artist
As with anything valuable, forgery has been a plague on the art world since time out of mind. Imagine spending tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on a work that appears genuine to even the trained eye, yet is barely worth the cost of the materials used to produce it. Such is the nightmare that keeps art collectors and museum curators awake at night, and with good reason - the fallout from such a discovery can be monumental. That being said, when a certain degree of skill is attained by the forger - when they are so good that all but the very best trained authenticators will be fooled - one can't help but admire the skill that goes into creating such elaborate fakes, even if it is remarkably immoral.
Enter the world-famous forger John Myatt, who rocked the art world in the 1990s with the revelations that his fakes had sold at auction houses around the world as original works by some of the most famed artists of the last several centuries. Among the artists whose work was faked were Le Corbusier and Matisse among many others, with even the most careful authenticators being fooled. Some of the works were sold for many tens of thousands of pounds, and not all of them have been recovered to date.
After a long and extensive trial in 1999, Myatt and the mastermind behind the scheme, John Drewe, were sentenced to prison terms, and both were released early. Since then, Myatt has gone on to make a career out of his incredible talent for stylistic mimicry, and has done quite well for himself, with some of his works being sold for upwards of £45,000. He currently has a show of original works at Castle Galleries in Exeter, England, who are also responsible for managing his sales.
"The difference between me and a forger is that I don’t do copies anymore. While there are plenty of people who will copy a master, I will create a painting in the style of an artist – and there lies a very important distinction," says Myatt.
“I know that I’ll always be known as the art forger who duped the experts but while that period of my life is definitely over, it set me on a path I never knew would be possible.”
Posted on October 17th 2014 on 08:17pm