A wave of fake sculptures, many from Asia, is flooding the international art market, and authorities are struggling to stem the tide.
On 31 December 2012, Reuters reported that fake statues and figures, some supposedly by well known international artists such as Jasper Johns, were being reproduced in unauthorised foundries and sold on the international market at knocked down prices.
Click here to read the original article, “Sculpture knock-offs prove plague of art world”, published on Reuters on 31 December 2012.
According to an Interpol statistic cited by Reuters, art crime accounts for over USD6 billion annually, most of which is attributable to forgery. Not all fakes reach the auction room: they also end up in stores, garden centres and home-wares outlets.
American sculptors interviewed by Reuters in the December 2012 article claim they lose tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to protect their work, often with little success. Foundries producing fakes, reportedly located in China and Thailand, appear to operate with impunity.
The problem may be set to worsen, Reuters asserts. With advances in 3D scanning and related digital technologies it will become increasingly easy to recreate artworks from a photograph.
The New York Times identifies another relatively modern technological advance, the internet, as playing a part in the increase in fake art.
Every day works labeled ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ and attributed to titans of the art world are offered at closeout prices by online galleries and auction sites. And every day people buy them. That these works are sometimes fake or misleadingly labeled is no surprise to art experts and to foundations that monitor online art sales. But fraud has saturated certain sectors of the art market, experts say….
Questionable new sculptures continue to emerge. Dalí expert Nicolas Descharnes says he often sees previously unknown ‘Dalí’ sculptures on eBay and at auction. An example is ‘Shoes with a Body Shape’, a work in copper attributed to Dalí that sold for $9,408 at Shanghai Hosane Auction Co. last December. ‘I’ve never heard of it, never seen a drawing’ on which the work might be based, Descharnes says. It is unclear where the new sculptures are coming from, but knockoffs of existing Dalí bronzes are readily available on the internet.
Like the Reuters December 2012 article, ArtNews reports that many of these fakes come from Asia,
Yongheng Craft Manufacturer, a foundry in Baoding, near Beijing, markets versions of some of the Dalí bronzes produced by Beniamino Levi, one of the major European purveyors of Dalí sculptures, at prices ranging from USD1,200 to 4,000, depending on size and number ordered. Posing as a potential buyer, this writer queried the foundry by email about buying an edition of a Dalí bronze, 123 cm (about four feet) tall, that appears to be virtually identical to the ‘Space Venus’ sculpture Levi produces. A sales representative emailed back, writing that there would be no problem producing an edition of 25, numbered 1 to 25, plus three numbered artist’s proofs. The price: USD1,600 per bronze, including shipping to Philadelphia, with delivery promised within thirty days of receipt of a deposit. The sales representative even wired a photo of the ‘Dalí’ signature the foundry uses.
The USA edition of China Daily noted that Chinese authorities may be making some progress towards tackling fakes, with a nationwide crackdown launched at the end of 2012 (USA Daily). But to date the action only targets forged Chinese calligraphy and painting.
The Sunday China Daily noted that fake art is not necessarily sold only once, but can cycle through the market many times.
The resale of fakes is a persistent and growing problem without a good solution, say collectors, dealers, artist estates and law enforcement agencies. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation can seize forgeries in criminal cases, these represent only a tiny portion of the counterfeit art that is circulating. “They churn through the market,” James Wynne, an F.B.I. special agent who handles art forgery cases, said of fakes.
According to The Wall Street Journal, identifying fakes can be so costly that organisations such as the Andy Warhol Foundation have given up trying. The Board charged by the Foundation with authenticating the Pittsburgh artist’s work was dissolved in 2011, after racking up costs of USD500,000 annually on travel and research expenses, not to mention the large amounts spent in fighting legal battles, not with the forgers themselves, but with collectors contesting the Board’s authority.
In this litigious atmosphere, Jane Dedecker, a sculptor in Loveland, Colorado who has herself been a victim of forgery, advises artists to copyright their work; this will not stop fakes, but it means artists have a chance of recouping legal fees in cases of forgery that end up in court.
- Asia’s contemporary sculpture parks: 20 gardens, 13 countries – November 2012 – some of Asia’s public parks and gardens that house contemporary artwork by top local artists
- 300 Andy Warhol works to tour Asia for three years – Associated Press – February 2012 – Warhol retrospective visits five cities over 36 months
- Fighting fakes in Asia: Pioneering technology from Cranfield University and Bonhams may help – June 2011 – forensic research may help Chinese authorities and art market professionals identify fakes
- Where to see blue-chip art in Asia for free: Wall Street Journal reveals city secrets – April 2011 – great places to see authentic sculpture for free in Hong Kong
- New technologies for spotting art fakes gain acceptance – December 2008 – more high-tech tools for spotting fakes
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