Counterfeit works, fakes and forgeries are part and parcel of modern life, and for the art world this is a problem which collectors and dealers increasingly encounter. How can you overcome this issue when contemplating a major purchase?
This is where a ‘Catalogue Raisonee’ is an extremely valuable tool in the art dealer or collectors armour. This is a comprehensive listing of works by the named artist which details the specifics of pieces of work to enable third parties to determine whether a work is genuine. The extent of information given does vary according to catalogue but generally will contain items such as measurements, edition number, the name of the printer and publisher, and possibly some historical literature and information on the paper used. The ‘Catalogue Raisonee’ is an established document which is recognised in the art world for guaranteeing authenticity and is thereby worthy of consideration to single out potentially fraudulent works.
Provenance is a means of proving ownership or historical life and is another valuable method of authenticating expensive pieces of work. However, records are not always made known as a level of confidentiality is involved. This can be overcome by researching documentation from previous auctions or records.
Certificates of Authenticity:
Opinion as to what constitutes a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ as well as its importance as a legal document is often divided. If specifically requested by a client, such certification can be given. However, a ‘Catalogue Raisonee’ is deemed to be more significant in that it carries far more relevant information. It is worth noting that as dealers are legally bound to provide sales invoices under ‘The Sale of Goods Act,’ works described on these will carry more weight legally.
It is also worth bearing in mind that not all works will be included in a ‘Catalogue Raisonee.’ This is especially the case where the item or work has failed to be recorded when published and does not in any way suggest that it is not an authentic piece. Owing to the increasing amount of law suits arising from providing such information, many museums neither provide opinion nor offer an authentication service. Therefore, for more recent items, proving an item to be genuine can be an extremely challenging process.
In the art world today a common concept of determining the authenticity of an item is ‘The Voice of God’ approach, in which reputable opinion is accepted as truth. The nature of opinion could originate from a variety of sources – perhaps the artist himself or a relative, an academic with specialist knowledge or a gallery dealer with considerable knowledge in the sector. Again, this will vary in terms of the level of detail given, but will usually consist of a photographic certificate which has been authenticated by the issuer. In order for information to be easily checkable in the future, descriptions and archive references should be provided.
As can be seen, the process of determining the authenticity of an item can be both costly and difficult, not to mention time consuming. A practice enforced by the Comite Chagall and the Miró organisation, ADOM, is for a purchaser to agree to sign a legal document whereby should the piece be proven to be counterfeit or fraudulent, they have the right to have it destroyed. Opinion can again be divided as to whether this is a positive move. It could possibly be argued that the underworld practice of selling fake products will be discouraged, whereas in contrast perhaps it could discourage newer works from even entering the market. Fees charged for these services vary, and some providers do not seek payment, making the judgement of credibility rather questionable. However, certainly any item or piece which does have a recorded certification will always be of far greater marketable value than its counterpart which does not.