Art History

The Art of Notarization: Sometimes the problem lies in the evidence | Pro Club Bd

Consider this: There are experts who say that half of the art sold at auction is fake. And it turns out that proving them wrong isn’t an easy task.

As she explored the harsh realities of art collecting — and forgery — correspondent Erin Moriarty spoke to a woman struggling to prove the authenticity of a collection of drawings and doodles she bought in early 2017.

When Tracey Finch stumbled upon the collection in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the primitive figures and bright colors were reminiscent of an artist.

“It could be Jean-Michel Basquiat,” she said.

Originally known for his provocative graffiti under the name SAMO, Basquiat became an acclaimed artist in the early 1980s after major New York galleries began showing his work and other artists such as Andy Warhol collaborated with him. In 1988, Basquiat died of a drug overdose at the age of 27.

Finch, who studied art history in college, bought more than 100 drawings – some no more than scraps of paper. She believes they are Basquiat’s early works, but does not say exactly how much she paid for them.

“Thousands. And that’s all I’m going to say,” Finch said.

It’s every art lover’s fantasy to uncover a lost masterpiece, like the nurse in New York who discovered last year that a painting on her wall was actually the work of Jacob Lawrence, a prominent American artist. However, what headlines in such stories often fail to mention is how difficult it can be to prove a find is not fake.

“I never thought people could be so rude and skeptical all the time,” Finch said. “Even friends who said, ‘You can’t possibly have a real job. That’s impossible.'”

What Finch encountered is taken for granted in today’s art world. It’s a largely unregulated business where it’s possible for even the most savvy art collector to end up with fake art.

Sharon Flescher, director of the International Foundation for Art Research, known as IFAR, said she jokes that “the best fakes are still on people’s walls”.

“Because the history of the art world is that a lot of transactions have traditionally been done with a handshake,” she said. “It’s accepted in the art world. It’s not necessarily right or wrong. But with rising prices for artworks, it leaves a lot of room for handkerchiefs.”

In October 2021, for example, a longtime New York gallery owner pleaded guilty to selling fake antiques and getting away with it for three decades.

“The moment you have things of great value — it could be art, it could be antiques, rare comics, coins, baseball cards, any collectibles — there will be fakes because there’s money to be made,” says art authenticator Richard said Polsky.

Polsky, one of only a handful of experts willing to examine a painting to determine if it’s genuine or not, there’s a lot of money to be made when it comes to Basquiat. In 2017, a single painting cost $110 million.

“Authentication is based on two things: what does the object look like and what is its backstory?” he said. “You read. They look at books. They go to exhibitions. They go to museum exhibitions. Whatever it takes. It’s like people are learning about great wines. You have to drink a lot. Well, with art, you have to a lot look closely.”

But with so much money at stake, some art collectors aren’t always willing to accept his conclusions.

“People are very passionate about the art they own, and when you’re like, ‘Look, I’m really sorry, but here’s the proof, it’s not,'” he said. “You are very upset. And they will come after you.”

With expensive litigation, Polsky said, or something worse.

“I was threatened with my life once,” he said.

Therefore, even the legacies of many well-known artists – Keith Haring, Warhol and Basquiat – will no longer authenticate the work of their own artists. And that’s a problem, even for those in the art world.

In June, the FBI conducted a raid Orlando Art Museum and confiscated pieces from a Basquiat exhibition after an investigation raised questions about their authenticity. But Tracy Finch, convinced that her collection is genuine, has hired numerous experts to prove it.

“I have ink dating, handwriting. I have two art scholars now,” she said.

Finch said these specialists told her the ink used was available in 1980 and that the signature seen on some pieces appears genuine. But Richard Polsky, who has not personally examined Finch’s collection, said she also needs to establish provenance, or how these pieces got from Basquiat’s hand to hers.

“Does the backstory make sense?” he said. “We’ve had people come up to us and say, ‘I was one of Basquiat’s friends. He gave it to me.” I was able to verify that several times.”

And that’s perhaps Tracey Finch’s biggest challenge. She says she bought these works from an artist named Kevin Doyle, who says he met Basquiat in 1980. But Finch said she didn’t have a picture of Boyle and Basquiat together or notes from Basquiat showing the two knew each other.

“I never really asked for evidence. But I believe him,” she said.

Doyle told us the same story that Basquiat gave him the work, but there are still many skeptics.

“There are so many people in the art world who don’t believe him,” Finch said. “You don’t believe the story. But there are people who believe it because they look at the artwork and see what I saw.”

Finch now concedes that she may never know for sure whether this is the work of a budding Basquiat or a seasoned forger. Earlier this summer, Finch said she’d found a buyer willing to buy half of her collection — not for the millions she was hoping for, but enough to cover her expenses.

And despite it all, she can’t quite shake the hope that she’s only one thrift store away from finding a lost masterpiece.

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