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Are Art Experts Finally Safe?

  • art experts art authenticity art law
April 6, 2015

The art experts’ opinions on the art authenticity is an important and recurring issue. The theory that half of the artworks in the world are fake makes everything more complicated. Usually, tens of millions of dollars rest solemnly on the opinion of art experts. Many experienced art experts concluded that giving an opinion on art authenticity carries too immense peril to facing a mudslinging, extortion or disregard claims. Absent on an extensive opinion exchange about the art authenticity, fraudulence and fabricators are indeed encouraged. As Judith Bresler of Appraisers Association of America once said, “When authenticators are afraid to practice their profession, it has a far reaching effect.”

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Mona Lisa

Art Experts Afraid of Providing Art Authenticity

Art law can protect art experts for giving both positive and negative opinions. If they express negative opinions, it means that the artwork can become unmarketable, and on the other hand, for expressing positive opinions, purchasers can later call into question the art authenticity if the artwork is left out of catalog raisonné. On a couple of occasions, art experts working on these were offered with bribes and facing lawsuits for including or excluding the artworks from a catalog raisonné, resulting with a considerable effect on the market price of a artwork. To make it more complicated for the art experts, they can get in trouble even for refusing to provide the opinion about the art authenticity. A large number of museums around the world refuse to provide the art authentication because there is no art law to protect them.

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Arhile Gorky – Fiorello La Guardia, Federal Art Gallery

Art Experts and Controversy

Quite a lot can go wrong with issuing opinions on the authenticity of art. There is an emerging problem with corruption that includes both selling the false certificates of authenticity and even providing the people with certifications for art authentication. A lot of controversy rose the attraction of public recently with the Achenbach trial, where he was charged on more than 20 counts of fraud. The proof that forgery is a lucrative job is also the controversy with fake Damien Hirst artworks. In 2010, Wolfgang Beltracchi was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison for forging 36 paintings which were sold for $45 million. But not every art forger has this anarchistic intentions. If we recall the Orson Welles’ free-form documentary F for Fake and its main protagonist Elmyr de Hory we would remember that he turned to forgery out of desperation, only to see the greatest share of profits go to doubly unscrupulous art dealers. Nowadays, even the museums and foundations are refusing to provide a certificate for art authenticity since they are not protected with any art law. Implications of failing to provide the certificate of the negative opinion could be seen in the lawsuits against the Keith Haring Foundation and against Christie’s, considering the verification of Basquiat’s artworks.

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Studio of the Infamous Berlin Forgers – The Posin brothers

Will There Be a Art Law Protecting Art Experts?

In order to protect themselves from possible legal complications in case of failure to provide the accurate art authenticity, art experts are requiring owners of artwork to sign the no-sue agreement. If the new information comes to light, and the question is raised about the already certified artwork, owners of the artwork, if they decide to press charges against the art expert, would be breaching the agreement and having to pay the damages to art experts. Another solution for the protection of art experts arose in recent years. While waiting for the appropriate art law, insurance companies recognized the empty market spot for offering art experts insurance for the risk of issuing opinions about the art authenticity. Benefit of such policies is the covered fees for the attorneys’, since independent art experts could be severely burdened by the lawsuits. It seems like that this situation is rushing into even bigger complications and implications, leaving art experts and collectors unprotected from the art experts and collectors on the other side of law and moral values.

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Featured image: courtesy of Yu Haibo. All images are for illustrative purposes only.