It’s hard to believe that in 2023, art fraud is still such a problem. With so much technology and a host of information at our fingertips on the internet, one would think it’s easier to spot a con artist than ever before. Unfortunately, these advancements have only proven to assist fraudsters in their schemes, as art scams are becoming more prevalent than ever before.
When it comes to forgery, it can be quite tricky to detect, and the art world’s verification systems are lackluster, to say the least. The lack of regulation in the industry has led to millions of dollars lost and high suspicion among collectors. Let’s take a look at some of the most shocking cases of forgery last year.
What Exactly Is Art Forgery?
The true definition of art forgery is marketing a piece of art and attributing it to someone who did not actually create it. It involves misrepresenting an already existing piece or creating something in the style of a certain artist and claiming they did it. The motivation behind it is almost always for financial gain as con artists realize that attaching certain names to pieces of art increases their value dramatically.
At What Point Does It Become Illegal?
There is a surprisingly fine line between forgery and just replicating a piece of art. The act of copying another artist’s work or style is not in itself illegal. Even signing the original artist’s name at the bottom is not actually considered a crime. It becomes criminal the moment when that piece of art is claimed by someone to be the original and attempted to be sold off as the real thing.
Cases of Forgery in 2022
Fake Basquiat’s at the OMA
The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) was set to debut an exhibition of the renowned Jean-Michel Basquiat in late June. Instead, on the day of the opening, the OMA was raided by FBI agents who carted away all 25 paintings of the exhibit, claiming them to be fake. The story goes that the works were painted on pieces of cardboard by Basquiat, who then sold them himself to a Hollywood screenwriter for $5,000. The new owner put them in storage for 30 years until they were eventually auctioned off and found their way to the OMA. Speculation arose from the cardboard which was discovered to have a FedEx typeface that wasn’t developed until 1994 — six years after Basquiat’s death.
An $86 Million Scheme
In one of the most high-profile cases in industry history, a young and charming London dealer conned wealthy investors out of a total of $86 million. Inigo Philbrick’s schemes consisted of claiming ownership of works that weren’t actually his and using them to obtain loans. He would also sell the works to buyers in fractional shares, sometimes selling 100% shares of the work to multiple parties, all without their knowledge. He was sentenced to seven years in prison last May.
Forgery in the Family
In April, two Michigan brothers were charged with selling fraudulent artwork and memorabilia for over a decade. One of the brothers, well-known in the art community, would forge signatures on all kinds of paintings and collectibles, while his brother would hire actors to pose as owners of the items- one of the fake paintings sold at an auction for $372,500. The men face up to 20 years in prison.
Phony Art on Palm Beach
Daniel Elie Bouaziz was arrested in May for selling fraudulent pieces at his gallery on the upscale Worth Avenue of Palm Beach, Florida. He would allegedly buy cheap, fake prints online and sell them as genuine pieces. The works were accompanied by made-up stories of provenance and forged signatures. One Basquiat knockoff painting which Bouaziz purchased for $495, was sold at his gallery for a whopping $12 million. Undercover investigators posing as customers had the works authenticated and determined that they were indeed counterfeit. Bouaziz is also facing a 20-year sentence.
NFT Scams Surging
Digital art has not been immune to fraud either. An overwhelming number of NFT scams took place last year involving fake or stolen NFTs and unsuspecting collectors losing millions of dollars. Opensea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces, announced that one of their minting tools was being misused and producing 80% counterfeit NFTs. Two of the key reasons fraud is so rampant in this community are the anonymity of the culture and the reproducible nature of digital art. Although unique watermarks are used to establish copyright, these have been easily copied. Tracing the artist’s true identity proves difficult when there is little more than an alias to identify any user.
Is the Art World Becoming the Fake Art World?
These cases are just a few of the many schemes occurring in the art world right now — those that have been uncovered. Countless others still remain under the radar. This can be very unsettling for the average consumer just looking to add a nice piece to their collection. Seeing that these kinds of schemes can go on for years undetected and that even established galleries can be fooled into taking in counterfeit collections is troubling. It can feel as though the odds are stacked against those of us who are not trained in spotting fakes. The questions begin to arise: Is it even worth the risk? How can I be sure I’m not being scammed? With technology advancing like it is, won’t forgery just become easier?
The good news is that there is a solution! Backed by Black Ink Tech (BIT) software, Art Lock is a forward-thinking platform that has already addressed these questions and many others in the art industry. Their patented Art Lock system has been designed to provide the most transparent environment for authenticating and securing artwork.
How Art Lock Works
The Art Lock difference is in their use of blockchain technology and meticulous data collection. The platform records several crucial data points related to a piece of art, including the location and time of creation and the biometrics of the artist and owner. The work is then assigned a digital token and a unique identifier, like a QR code, that, when scanned, pulls up all of the data on the token. This creates a detailed, transparent record of the artwork that is continually updated throughout the artwork’s lifespan.
Blockchain is an immutable ledger that stores all this information about the artwork’s history and origin. The record can never be altered and the origins can’t be falsified as the data is permanently and securely stored on the blockchain.
Anyone who scans the unique QR code can verify the authenticity of an art piece and confirm its origin and history. This traceable record applies to both physical and digital art. Anyone can easily access the token’s details on the Art Lock platform using the Touch Audit feature that displays the:
WHERE (GPS coordinates of event locations)
WHEN (blockchain timestamps of events)
WHO (biometrics of stakeholders)
WHAT (images and the unique embedded QR code)
The Bottom Line
The art world is endangered but not extinct. It can be disheartening to see the number of forgeries discovered in just the last year, involving millions of dollars and trusted names in the industry. However, the solution lies in accountability and transparency – and that’s what Art Lock seeks to provide. With the Art Lock platform, every piece of art will possess a digital token containing the data needed to verify every aspect of the work and to authenticate its origins. Blockchain enables Art Lock to accomplish this with its immutable technology. Touch Audit ensures that anyone anywhere can access the details quickly and easily, making forgeries a thing of the past. Get in touch with a team member today to learn how to always keep your art on lock.