Collectors' Tip

November 5, 2013

Recent events make the topic of authenticity in art, especially in urban art, relevant. Our starting point for this discussion is this one infamous street artist who’s been roaming the streets of New York the last month. On one of these days Banksy set up stall at central park and sold originals for the knock-off price of $60 each. The tremendous yield of the Banksy art sale? $425. Why didn’t people buy the artwork? The answer is very simple. They didn’t believe the stencils on canvas to be real. But how do we know an artwork to be authentic or not?

Banksy art sale
Banksy - Art Sale at Central Park

Towards the Authentic

Authenticity is key to lucrative art collecting. For contemporary, urban and street – art the procurement of certification of authenticity is generally simpler, because the majority of artists are still alive. This, however, also leaves room for forgery. The fact that authentication is presumed to be readily available decreases the thoroughness of validation. Forgers do not limit their counterfeit activity to reproducing the artwork, the same amount of effort, if not more, is allocated to replicating certification of authentication. The advice here is to be very careful with these certificates. It is not whether you have a certificate but whether you have the correct certificate from a recognized expert.

Recognized experts are people that specialized in an artist’s style, brushstrokes, preferences in medium, sensibilities and how the artist marked the canvas. Again collectors need to be careful. Because there is no official registry for experts, everyone can claim to be an expert.  Therefore it is advisable to obtain authentication from different sources if possible. This is especially the case with art from the secondary art market. Art offered by private sellers needs to undergo meticulous examination by a variety of experts to be certain about the authenticity of an artwork.

Simple Certificate of Authenticity Template
Simple Certificate of Authenticity Template, via besttemplates.com

Where is the Guarantee?

The recommendation is to get an expertise by an outside consultant. An expertise will verify the authenticity of an artwork. Furthermore it should provide information on the condition of the art piece. Whether it has damages or has been restored is valuable information that has a strong impact on the market price of art.

There is another way to guarantee the authenticity of art. The catalog raisonné is a documentation of an artist’s works. Preferably the artist himself drafts this catalog. Otherwise the partner galleries that sell the artists work on the primary market, are a good source to retrieve the catalog raisonné.

There is no dead sure guarantee that collectors are in fact buying an authentic piece of art from their favorite street artist. Stencils, can be replicated with ease, false documentation can be bought or created and experts are generalists that might not catch the forge-give-away. It all sounds very sinister and de-motivating to collect urban contemporary art. Should collectors really buy forged artwork they have the right to rule the transaction void and receive their money back or have the object returned (laws vary from country to country).

If all fails consider buying fake art right aways. As we've seen last week the yield on fake Banksy's is higher than on originals. The Fake Banksy stall, set up, a week later at the same spot at Central Park, earned the owners $2.400.

All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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