Wednesday, October 17

Forgeries constant concern for fine art auctioneers

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In the auction industry, where highly prized and expensive artworks often resurface on the market, it is vital to determine provenance and originality.

In the auction industry, where highly prized and expensive artworks often resurface on the market, it is vital to determine provenance and originality.

Furthermore, with art now increasingly an alternative form of investment, artworks are attracting more attention from forgers and criminals – some of whom steal metal works to sell as scrap metal.

Major fine art auctioneers Stephan Welz & Co say although there is no simple way to detect a forgery, there are some points to consider when buying artworks.

Artist and researcher Kim Gurney says there are plates and blocks by earlier South Africa artists still in existence,and this has led to “highly questionable” prints reaching the market.

However, reproduction is not always the main motive. In August 2008, 20 of Diane Victor’s large zinc etching plates were stolen – possibly just for scrap metal value.

The black market for scrap metal, bronze and copper is a threat to public artworks and sculptures and, sadly, here the threat is finite: total destruction of the piece.

Paintings are most commonly targeted for forgery, with copying and false signatures found.

Although this remains fairly rare in South Africa, in 2006 there was a scandal around the work of the late Frans Claerhout after a close friend confessed to creating and selling forgeries.

With mass produced forgeries, the market for an artist’s work can plummet, as it did in the case of Claerhout.

Sculptures can also be faked and reproduced.

Some reproductions of Anton van Wouw’s bronzes, for instance, were cast from existing sculptures but this type of forgery is easier to detect because of obvious loss of detail and slight variation in size.

The main concern is that there is no central authority for establishing authenticity of an artwork.

Usually, specialists and scholars contribute opinions with the most authoritative and unanimous finding on the authenticity of an artwork being decisive.

But the obligation still rests entirely with buyers to be satisfied with the provenance before bidding.

Respected auction houses offer collectors peace of mind that their specialists research every item in detail and cross-reference items with accredited, published and museum records.

The estate of an artist or living relatives and scholars in the field can also be contacted to determine authenticity of an artwork.

Stephan Welz & Co urges art collectors to take utmost care in the acquisition of artworks, do their research, check references, and only deal with reputable auction houses or dealers when it comes to investing in art. 

Sunday Tribune Auctions

For more details see www.stephanwelzandco.co.za. – Auctions Writer

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