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Criminal Justice

Same Fake Art Pops Up Again and Again, In ‘Whac-a-Mole’ Experience for Experts Asked to Authenticate

Posted Nov 5, 2012 3:25 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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What happens when a painting or other art work by a famous artist turns out to be a fake?

The answer to that question often isn't clear. Criminal cases over forged art, which are relatively rare, can result in the seizure of the fakes by the FBI, and judges can also order the destruction of bogus works, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports.

But all too often, nonprofit foundations set up to protect famous artists and others involved in detecting forgeries see works identified as fakes quietly sold to unsuspecting new owners. Then, months or years down the road, the same experts are asked to reauthenticate the same pieces they previously pointed out as frauds.

Even the experts, however, are often reluctant to see apparent fakes destroyed, the newspaper recounts, for fear that a mistake could result in the destruction of a well-known artist's real work. A better solution, many seem to feel, is prominently marking artworks as fakes so they cannot be resold to unsuspecting buyers.

This does not always occur, even when courts are involved, making the detection of fake art something of a "Whac-a-Mole" experience, the newspaper says. “You put it down, and then five, seven years later, poof!, and there it is again,” Richard Grant, executive director of the Diebenkorn Foundation, told the New York Times.

It does, though, provide job security for experts such as Bernard Ewell, a Salvadore Dalí art appraiser who noted the ironic result in 1995 when a federal court ordered a gallery in Hawaii to auction off 12,000 phony prints to pay a $2 million government fine. “This makes the federal government an accessory to future art fraud,” he told the newspaper at the time.

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