Who wouldn’t want a wonderful piece of art, perhaps one by a well-known artist whom others admire? But buying investment-quality art can be daunting, especially considering the sums of money changing hands, and the nagging thought that art is often hard to authenticate.
“The art world is a world unto itself, and you always want to be sure you’re dealing with reputable art dealers,” says Elizabeth Blagbrough, accredited senior appraiser and fellow in the American Society of Appraisers, as well as past international president. “Look at references, whether former clients have been well-satisfied with the way any dealings have been handled, and look at the gallery’s standing in the art world.” As an appraiser, Blagbrough doesn’t provide authentication herself, but she will contact an authenticator if questions come up while she is examining a piece.
Every kind of art is forged from time to time, says Blagbrough, even antiquities displayed in museums. Even the great masters, those from the 16th and 17th centuries, have been forged. So museums are very cautious when buying works of art. “There are instances they have in good faith acquired something and when the level of scholarship increases, that particular work is reexamined and it’s decided by experts to be a fake,” she says. “Rembrandts have been de-attributed!”
Only illegal drug trafficking exceeds the trafficking in stolen and fraudulent art today, Blagbrough says. “Interpol has a whole section that deals just with this kind of thing,” she comments. “The FBI deals with it, too.” If it can be proven that a buyer has purchased a fake, then a lawsuit could potentially be filed, assuming the gallery or dealer that sold the art is still in existence. Or informal negotiations can also take place between buyer and seller; it goes on a case-by-case basis, she says.
“Reputation and experience are both factors in knowing whether your art dealer is reputable,” says Jonathan Kodner of Kodner Gallery. “Kodner Galleries has been authenticating art for more than 40 years, so we’ve built up a good reputation internationally and nationally. We specialize in fine art as opposed to being more eclectic and looking at furniture, decorative objects and knickknacks.”
Two artists that Kodner is currently researching are Oscar Berninghaus and Carl Wimar, but the gallery has handled all types of European and American works for decades, so its employees have experience with various schools and subjects, he says. “When you’re buying at a public sale or auction, you have to be very careful because it’s ‘as is’ or ‘buyer beware,’” says Kodner. “Working with a private gallery, you get more personal assistance and can have more confidence in the transaction, whether you’re selling or buying.”
Kodner also suggests buyers always ask questions and take into account the establishment they are dealing with. “It’s always helpful to read up on the artist or school of artists you’re interested in,” he says.
Ivey-Selkirk also authenticates art. “We sell a broad variety of property,” says Malcolm Ivey, president of the auction house. “Our hope is that our trained staff is able to identify blatant forgeries.” The best way to track a work of art, he says, is by learning the provenance, or history, of the piece. Older works can have long, complex histories, or a work of art could simply have been passed down through a family for several generations. “You also hope your appraisal staff is trained enough to determine from examination if it’s an authentic piece or not. That’s difficult,” Ivey admits. You can’t really be 100 percent sure, he adds, because the forgeries are so good these days.
“Be sure to do your own homework,” he advises. “There is an awful lot of information available on the Internet, and the more self-informed you are, the better off you are when purchasing any form of artwork.”