As advisors in art collection management, we often get inquiries from people who have inherited a work of art or a collection and are interested in donating to a museum. Many assume that most museums will be glad to accept a given art work to their collection. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as one would think. First of all, the art work or collection in question needs to fit into the museum’s mission. Even if it does fit the mission, the museum may already have a number of similar works. For example, we recently inventoried and advised on a large collection of Mexican folk art that had been acquired by an recognized academic in the field. However, many of the museums with a mission congruent with her folk art collection, already had many similar works and were very selective in accepting objects from the collection. The reality is, that there are costs to accepting an artwork or a collection – costs to store, costs to conserve and maintain, and costs to research. Museums are more likely to accept if the artwork or collection fills a gap in a collection, or if the artwork fits into a category that the museum is looking to expand.
In the case of antiquities or cultural property, curators may be concerned about the authenticity of an object, or if that object may have been acquired in violation of international cultural patrimony laws. If the owner does not have a solid provenance (history of ownership) for the artifact, documentation that it was acquired from a respected and known auction house, gallery or collector, it can be viewed as a red flag by curators about its authenticity or the legality of its acquisition. For more on the ins and outs of donation, click on the link below.
Art fraud is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. Consequently, authenticity, the degree to which an art work can be said to have been indisputably created by an artist, is a key aspect of value and of vital interest to both appraisers and collectors.
At a recent seminar in Los Angeles, attorney Christine Steiner of Sheppard Mulllin and Debra Burchett-Lere, Director of the Sam Francis Foundation, reported on the evolving legal ramifications for authenticating artwork. In recent years, a number of high profile court cases have addressed the liability of sellers, buyers, auction houses, independent experts and artist’s foundations when it comes to authenticating works of art. These cases illustrate the challenges of authenticating works of art which have included disagreements among recognized experts, the sophistication of art forgery techniques, as well as differing authentication standards in the United States and other countries. Other complicating factors in determining the authenticity is the absence of catalogue raisonnés and other comprehensive documentation on an artist’s works.
Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946–1994 Edited by Debra Burchett-Lere with featured essay by William C. Agee (Photo courtesy the Sam Francis Foundation, California)
Because of the increasingly litigious environment in the art world, and the high costs of defending opinions of authenticity, it is becoming more difficult to get artist’s foundations, authentication boards and independent experts to render opinions. One high-profile example is the Andy Warhol Foundation which recently announced that it is disbanding its authentication board. Other artist’s foundations are reviewing their liability in the event of disputes over the authenticity of specific works. These cases are impacting the creation of catalogue raisonnés, the authoritative catalogues that document an artist’s production of works over a lifetime. Consequently, provenance, the history of ownership of an artwork, is more important than ever as an element of authenticity.
The American Society of Appraisers states that appraisers witness, identify and value, but do not authenticate. However, appraisers frequently must take into consideration the authenticity of artworks as part of the appraisal process. This is done through the careful physical inspection of the artwork, consultation with experts or the artists themselves, research of published material such as catalogue raisonnés, and in some cases, scientific testing. It is often necessary for appraisers to examine works outside the frame in order to look for key markers of attribution including signatures, watermarks, edition number, and titles. Discrepancies between the art work and documentation on the artist and their known works that raise questions about the authenticity of a given work must be discussed in the appraisal report.
What should collectors do?
Purchase art from reputable sources and request warranties of authenticity. A warranty, as opposed to a certificate, should offer the buyer protection and recourse if the work is discovered not to be authentic at a later date.
When purchasing a work of art seek information on the provenance, the prior history of ownership of the work.
Maintain all documents relating to the acquisition of a work of art, such as sales receipts, as well as provenance.
If a work of art is reframed retain all information that may be affixed to the prior frame or enclosure such as gallery stamps and stickers, written notes, custom’s stamps, etc…
If you own a work by an artist who is represented by a foundation, it may be beneficial to inquire if the work can be registered, particularly if the foundation is documenting the artist’s work in a single or multiple catalogue raisonnés. The Sam Francis Foundation, for example, offers the owners of Francis works the opportunity to register the work and to obtain a Documentation Data Sheet with information on the creation and history of the work.
For additional information go to http://www.samfrancisfoundation.com