FORGED MASTERPIECES CAN NEVER BE FULLY PURGED FROM THE WORLD OF GREAT ART, BUT THERE ARE WAYS TO SPOT THE FRAUDS.
Collecting serious artwork is no mean feat, and thanks to the forgery scandal that surrounded Knoedler & Co, New York’s oldest art gallery, for years before ﬁnally reaching a settlement in February, we now know that even the keenest eyes in the art world can be fooled. So what’s an aspiring collector to do? “Do your homework,” advises Allison Liu, managing director of Bergen Art Investment.
She adds: “You don’t need in-depth study, but you can train your eye with knowledge of brush strokes, painting styles and checking the piece’s provenance and exhibition records.”
Science can be harnessed to check everything from pigmentation to the age of a canvas, but Liu is quick to point out that even scientiﬁc methods have limitations. Pigmentation checks are effective with older paintings, since forgeries may include pigments that weren’t supposed to have existed at the time of the original, but artwork in more recent decades will have a much wider range of available pigments. Forgers may also cheat scrutiny by using very old paint, ink or paper, or even forcibly ageing a painting by changing its carbon isotopes.
Something as simple as common sense can also help spot obvious fakes. “Zhang Da Qian usually signs off as ‘Da Qian’, ‘Zhang Yuan’ or just ‘Yuan’, but I’ve once spotted a fake because the sign-off was ‘Mr Zhang Da Qian’,” she recalls. “You should consider the size of the painting. Artists like Fu Baoshi never had enough space or money to do large paintings, but there was an exhibition once that displayed over 30 pieces that were about 150 by 80cm large. That’s not convincing at all.”
There are, of course, excellent fakes out there and popular targets include Picasso, Jackson Pollock, the Chinese old masters and, if you’re looking for a South- east Asian representative, local artist Chen Wen Hsi. But Liu doesn’t believe that should deter you from boldly wading into art investment. “It’s challenging to start a collection, but I don’t think it’s right to just stand on the sidelines and watch and wait,” she says.
“All over the world, people still ultimately rely on ‘eye authentication’. Examining the ageing of the paper, the exact tones of colour used by a very particular artist, and the back stories of these pieces – it’s part of the overall experience.”