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Fact and Fraud: Two Forgery Rings Discovered in France and Germany

Wassily Kandinsky’s Blauer Kreis No. 2.

This week two forgery rings were discovered in France and Germany.  Both cases required long investigations and police resources– an increasing trend worldwide as both art crime and public interest is on the rise.

When Lee Catterall wrote The Great Dali Art Fraud and Other Deceptions in 1992 she turned on a spotlight on the black art market.  She argued that the market ignored fraud and that more due diligence was required.  In her preface Catterall wrote: “When the abuses described in this book amounted to fraud, many looked the other way.  That’s not art, it’s fraud, said the art critics, and ignored it in their writings.  That’s not fraud, it’s art, said law enforcement officers, who did not want to be bothered.”

Things have changed quite a bit from 1992.  Art is selling faster at higher prices to knowledgeable investors, collectors, and institutions.  These buyers demand accurate provenance.

Yet forgery continues.  The skyrocket in art prices is a temptation too hard to ignore.  It comes down to fact and fraud.

Fact: At the June 6th Sotheby’s Paris Auction Wassily Kandinsky’s Blauer Kreis No. 2  [Lot 000222], with an estimate of $1,325,908- $1,988,862, sold for $2,233,150.

Fraud: On June 10th, German police announced that they had shut down a 25 year forgery ring that produced fakes by Russian masters, including: Wassily Kandinsky, Kazmir Malevich, Natalia Goncharova, and Mikhail Larionov.  The operation consisting of six artists and two ring leaders and sold more than 400 paintings.  Each fake sold for “four-to-seven-figure euro sums” according to the German police.

African Art Sales 2007- 2011.  Source: ArtTactic.

The investigation began in December 2012 (7 months ago) after they received a tip from an unnamed Israeli source.

Fact: The Total Auction Volume (TAV) for African art grew from $3 million in 2007 to $42 million in 2011. (2102 numbers are still unavailable)

Fraud: French police arrested 22 individuals for forging African art.  The ring sold 500 pieces for around $133,500 each.  The forgers hand carved wooden Fang masks and statues from Gabon and Punu, and then used urine and cashew nut paste to give them a “patina” antique look.

Bernard Dulon told All Africa that the crooks targeted tourists and art lovers. “The objects were sold by Africans to white Westerners and relied on people believing that Africans couldn’t possibly know anything about art and that gallery owners were necessarily over changing.”

The French police investigation required six months.

Sources: The Great Dali Art Fraud, Lee Catterall; Sotheby’s Paris; All Africa; Huffington Post.