Art crime

5 tips for safeguarding your art

How to avoid being a victim of art theft according to Detective Don Hrycyk, LAPD Art Theft Detail.

1. Know what you have. “Have it authenticated and appraised. Just because your grandmother says it’s a Ming vase doesn’t mean that it really is.”

2. Get it photographed. “It’s amazing how many people lose a $50,000 painting and all they can show us is an old Thanksgiving photo with the family standing in front of a very blurry painting.” Hrycyk also recommends photographing the back of the artwork “because it’s like a birthmark that can positively identify an artwork.”

3. Have a good written description of the artwork. “And if it’s a print, not the number so we can identify it from other prints.”

4. Add you own mark. “Add something to the artwork in a non-destructive manner.” How about a Tagsmart Smart tag? ;)

5. If it’s insured, make sure you have a buyback provision in your policy. “If we recover a valuable artwork 10 years after it was stolen, it’s only going to be more valuable at that time. And if you’ve since filed a claim with your insurance company, you want to be sure that you can return the money and still get to keep your artwork. Otherwise, we have to return it to the insurance company.

– Source: Lansing, David. Artifice. Art & Antiques. Summer 2006: 98. Print.

Artist Lee Ufan’s forgery scandal continues

Three people have been arrested for allegedly forging and selling copies of artist Lee Ufan’s paintings. A National Forensic Service investigation confirmed that the six works in question do not align with genuine pieces by Ufan. The artist, however, maintains that the 13 paintings in questions are his authentic works.

Following a tip-off last December, the police raided Seoul galleries suspected of selling fake artworks by Ufan. The following month the police said that the Certificate of Authenticity for his 1978 painting From Point No. 780217, which was sold for US$415,600 to a private collector at an auction last year, had been forged. Although the artwork itself was proven to be authentic, the incident raised further suspicions surrounding the authenticity of his paintings.

In May and July, the police arrested three art forgers for 55 fake pieces claimed to have been done by Ufan, and selling them through the same gallery implicated in the latest police discovery. With four of the 13 paintings seized by the police credited to this group and six paintings claimed to have been forged by the latest forgery ring, the source or sources of the remaining three seized paintings are still unknown.

Ufan has been steadfast in his claims that the paintings alleged to have been forged are in fact his works. “A person’s flow and rhythm are like one’s fingerprints, which cannot be imitated,” he said at a press conference in June, after examining 13 works the National Forensic Service seized and identified as fake. “They are undoubtedly mine.”

Slovenian busted in Austrian investigation into art forgery

Austrian police have busted a multi-million forgery ring comprised of five Austrian and one Slovenian nationals. In the Slovenian part of the operation, Ljubljana police uncovered 66 works of art by acclaimed authors, including by Picasso, Klimt and Monet, at the home of a 65-year-old from the vicinity of Ljubljana.

New law to root out counterfeit artwork in Korea

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced Thursday that it will legislate a new law regarding artwork distribution in an effort to root out the distribution of counterfeit works, recover public trust in Korea’s art market, and establish a healthy trading platform for creative crafts. The law will be implemented in August 2017.

The new law will divide art distribution into three major categories: art galleries, which will be subject to a registration system; art auctions, to a permit system; and other sales of artworks, to a reporting system.

Currently, art galleries or art auction houses can operate with only a business license, and without official registration or approval, which led to criticism that they lacked transparency and engaged in unfair practices in their art distribution process.

With the new law, however, art galleries will have to submit plans to prevent counterfeit artworks as well as a list of all of their affiliate artists. Auction firms will also have to provide counterfeit prevention measures, while possessing certain qualifications including at least 200 million won in capital, an official auctioneer, and an auction house.

Furthermore, artwork distributors will be obliged to maintain records for each of their artworks, and issue an official warranty when they’re sold. Failure to do so will also be result in fines and cancelled business licenses.

The law will implement stronger punishment for counterfeit crimes as well, by stipulating that these types of crimes be punishable by up to five years in prison or 50 million won in fines. The ministry will also consider the potential implementation of special judicial police specific to artwork fraud.

Meanwhile, the ministry is to establish a national body for artwork authentication, which will function as the official agency responsible for developing new authentication technology and professionals in related fields.

“The institute will be operated not as a government agency but as a public one, and will help improve Korea’s art authentication technology, as well as aiding with crimes, investigations, and trials related to counterfeit artwork,” said Jung. “It will be staffed by professional researchers and appraisers.”

The full details of the law are to be revealed in the first half of 2017.

Grandchildren of Matisse's muse sue National Gallery for reclaim of 'stolen' portrait

The National Gallery in London is being sued by the grandchildren of Matisse’s muse over a painting they claim was stolen from their family in the aftermath of WW II.

The three grandchildren – Oliver Williams, from Kent; his cousin Margaret Green, who lives in East Yorkshire, and a third Germany-based cousin, Iris Filmer – accuse the National Gallery of displaying a painting that rightfully belongs to them.

The trio, through their lawyer, claim that a film last year, Woman In Gold – detailing the struggle of Maria Altmann, played by Helen Mirren, to reclaim family possessions that were seized by the Nazis – shows that such cases are legally sound.

On Wednesday they launched legal proceedings in a federal court in Manhattan, after five years of wrangling over the ownership of the painting. The case was brought in New York because, the plaintiffs argue, the National Gallery has commercial interests in the US and has profited from the work.

The trio want the painting returned, or $30 million in compensation.

The celebrated 1908 oil painting shows their trio’s grandmother, Greta Moll – who sat for Matisse in Paris. Moll’s husband Oskar had bought the painting in 1908, and the couple returned to Germany.

Considered a masterpiece of Matisse’s fauve period, it was deemed so significant that it was shipped to New York for a 1931 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, in Manhattan.But the Nazis were fiercely critical of the Molls’ art work, labelling it degenerate and bourgeois. From 1933 on, Oskar and Greta Moll were prohibited by the Nazis from exhibiting their art in Germany. Articles in newspapers and art reviews defamed them as degenerate and bolshevist artists. They lived in Berlin until 1943, when the city became subject to massive bombing attacks. On their return, after the War, they found to their delight that the painting had survived. But, given the looting and chaos in the aftermath, they accepted an offer from a former student of Oskar Moll, Gertrud Djamarani, to take the painting to Switzerland and leave it with an art dealer for safekeeping. Djamarani, who was preparing to emigrate to Iran, then sold the painting, kept the proceeds, and left for the Middle East, according to the suit.

When Greta Moll died in 1977, she had no idea what had happened to it.

“Unfortunately, because of its refusal to return the portrait to the Moll heirs, the National Gallery has left the Moll family no other choice than to file suit to recover this lost family heirloom.”

From Switzerland, painting was imported to the US in 1949 by Knoedler & Co in New York City – a now defunct gallery, which in February settled a $25 million case for selling a fake Mark Rothko to the chairman of Sotheby’s.

The painting of Moll was then sold to a private collector, Lee Blaffer, in Texas, before being bought by the Lefevre gallery in London - who finally sold it to the National Gallery in 1979.

Art crime, fraudsters and fakes revealed in new exhibition

New Zealand has a history of art crime which will be exposed in an intriguing new exhibition to open at Waikato Museum by the end of the month. The exhibition, An Empty Frame: Crimes of Art in New Zealand features 30 artworks and explores the different aspects of art crime; theft, vandalism and fraud in the form of forgery. 

Guest curator and art historian Penelope Jackson says art crime is far more widespread than we know and New Zealand is no exception where art crime is criminally punishable and often motivated by money.

All artworks in the exhibition have at some stage been “victims” of art crime and each is accompanied by its own particular story.

An Empty Frame is named after the elegant gold frame, left behind after the 1902 painting, Psyche by Solomon J Solomon was stolen from a Christchurch gallery in 1942. The famous frame now belongs to the Christchurch Art Gallery collection and is featured in the exhibition. “Psyche is one of my favourite cases as it is full of intrigue. There is a sense of hope the exquisite gold frame will one day be reunited with the stolen painting, although it is highly improbable now”, says Ms Jackson.

One aspect of An Empty Frame intended to challenge visitors is the placement of a genuine artwork from the Museum’s collection alongside a fake.

Waikato Museum Director Cherie Meecham says it was surprisingly easy to arrange high quality reproductions of the originals for the purpose of the show. “It’s not illegal to produce a copy of a painting, but it is a crime to try to sell it as the original – it’s essentially fraud.”

Visit http://waikatomuseum.co.nz for more information.

Caveat emptor: why the art world is a legal landmine

It is a privilege afforded to lawyers to observe the problems faced by individuals, families and trustees in respect of their assets and seek to find solutions. Disputes concerning art, antiquities and cultural assets – sometimes more colourful and interesting than the object in question – can be particularly emotive.

One aspect that differentiates the market for art and antiquities from the trade in other valuable assets is that it is largely unregulated; anyone can buy and sell freely without having to comply with any prescribed formal requirements. As the value of such assets increase and the stakes get higher, so does the potential for things to go wrong. This can lead to interesting issues concerning, provenance, attribution, legal title and forgeries (to name a few examples).

The provenance and attribution of an artwork or antiquity are often key considerations. A connection to a well-known historic collection, or authorship by a renowned artist or maker can enhance desirability and thus add significant value. Of course, the reverse is also true in cases where the provenance or attribution turn out to be incorrect.

One can imagine the disappointment of finding out, as one of our client’s did, that artworks, which had been sold as being by a highly regarded artist whose works were in a European royal collection, were actually by a minor artist of no significance and worth many times less than the price paid.

Navigating between fact and ‘sales puff’ can often be a challenge. Does a statement that an artwork is of exceptional quality mean that it is unusually good, or is this just a statement of opinion by the seller? Buyers of art have to be cautious about readily accepting statements made about it. Even pre-eminent experts can sometimes have differing opinions. Matters such as attribution, and the physical condition of an artwork can be difficult to assess when restoration and underlying issues are not always visible to the untrained eye.

The case of Thwaytes v Sotheby’s provides a noteworthy example. Mr Thwaytes consigned a painting, The Cardsharps, to Sotheby’s for sale by auction, putting them on notice that it may be a work by the renowned old master, Caravaggio. Sotheby’s experts examined the painting, but took the view that it was a copy by an unknown artist. The picture could, of course, have sold for many multiples of the sale price had it been sold as a work by Caravaggio.

The buyer, a renowned art scholar, later identified the picture as being an autograph copy by Caravaggio himself. Mr Thwaytes sued Sotheby’s for negligence, but was unsuccessful; the court found that Sotheby’s had not breached their duty since there was nothing that would have been visible on a visual inspection that should have counteracted Sotheby’s view that the painting did not have Caravaggio ‘potential’. The case illustrates just how subjective authenticating a work of art can be.

Unscrupulous sellers - of which, unfortunately, there are a few around - will often make grandiose statements about the artworks/antiquities they are selling in order to secure a sale. It is, therefore, vital for any buyer to make sure that the object being sold is what it purports to be, or at least ensure that there is adequate protection in place should things go wrong.

Every single lie Yang Yin has told, according to the prosecution

Another day in court, another day of the prosecution exposing what it says are lies, lies, lies, by Yang Yin to cover up his crime of cheating an old widow of her millions of dollars. In the last nine days of the trial, the prosecution has introduced what seemed at times to be an endless stream of evidence, and testimony, portraying the 42-year-old Chinese national as an unrepentant liar who would fib his way out of anything.

Did it work? Maybe. It was all too much for Yang, who nearly broke down yesterday and actually agreed with the prosecution, when asked repeatedly if he was someone who was “willing to lie when it is suitable and convenient for [him]”.

Today, he told the court he was “very stressed” with the proceedings. When asked by the judge if he felt unwell, he replied: “physically and emotionally a little bit”.  He looked tired and was rocking slightly on the stand. “I would like to request, your honour, I would like to give up giving testimony. My lawyer explained to me today. Today I would like to tell your honour about how I feel so please allow me to,” he told the judge through an interpreter.

Yang is being accused of two charges of criminal breach of trust involving a total of US$1.1 million he allegedly misappropriated from elderly widow, Chung Khin Chun.

Stolen Salvador Dalí and Tamara de Lempicka works recovered

The Dutch art detective Arthur Brand announced on Twitter Wednesday, 27 July, the recovery of two works stolen from a private museum in the Netherlands in 2009: Salvador Dalí’s gouache Adolescence (1941) and Tamara de Lempicka’s oil painting La Musicienne (1929), which was shown in Madonna’s music video for Vogue (1990). Both works are said to be in good condition.

The pieces were brazenly stolen during opening hours on 1 May 2009 from the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art, which was located in the village of Spanbroek in the North Holland province and closed in 2011. Several masked robbers threatened staff and visitors at gunpoint and made off with their loot in a matter of minutes.

Brand told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that the works were in the possession of a criminal gang, who “did not want to find themselves guilty of the destruction or resale of works of art” and contacted him through an intermediary. Brand adds that he has handed the works over to a Scotland Yard detective who is in touch with the rightful owners, who wish to remain anonymous.

Museum admits all paintings in high-profile exhibition are fake

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts publicly apologised for failing to verify the authenticity of 17 paintings on display at an exhibition that have been confirmed as fake.

A panel of famous artists and experts and officials found 15 of the paintings, supposedly the works of legendary artists such as Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Bui Xuan Phai, were copies.

Two others were found to be works of other artists. At least one living artist, Thanh Chuong, has claimed one of the two paintings as his.

All the paintings at the show are owned by Vu Xuan Chung, who claimed to have acquired them from Jean-Francois Hubert, a known expert on Vietnamese art and a former senior consultant for giant auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Worries after forger Keating is linked to picture at Horham church

A painting returned to a village church after an absence of 50 years may be an original 16th century study or the work of master forger Tom Keating. Mr. Keating was asked to restore the painting in the 1960s but a decade later he was unmasked as a serial faker as bogus works assigned to Samuel Palmer and other great artists. Now residents at Horham, near Eye, say they cannot be absolutely sure who is the artist who created the painting – now returned to the village after 50 years in St. Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Why is the Korean art market vulnerable to forgery?

Artist Lee Ufan will finally have a look at the paintings that the National Forensic Service confirmed as counterfeits of his works next Monday.

One of the largest art forgery cases in Korea seems to be nearing its end as a 66-year-old art forger surnamed Hyun, who allegedly created fake works of Lee Ufan, was arrested in May and has been put on trial. All 13 works seized by police from galleries accused of distributing the counterfeits were confirmed to be fake.

Court orders dealer of phony artwork to repay victims

Buyers who obrtained fake artwork from a Madison dealer will receive full restitution after being tricked into spending thousands of dollars on works purported to be by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and other masters, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled.

David Crespo, who formerly owned the Brandon Gallery in Madison, was sentenced to almost five years in prison in early 2015 following an undercover sting operation conducted after federal authorities came to believe he was selling fake artwork on eBay. The investigation, which started in 2009, was launched after a customer went to the local police department to complain about being sold a fake.

David Nahmad admits ownership of disputed Modigliani painting

After Swiss prosecutors seized a Modigliani painting from storage that the art dealing family the Nahmads denied they owned, Doreen Carvajal reports in the New York Times that dealer David Nahmad has now admitted he is the current owner of the painting, Seated Man with a Cane, but claims that it is not the same work that once belonged to the prewar Jewish art dealer Oscar Stettiner and should not be subject to his heir Philippe Maestracci’s restitution claim.