Top Art Stories: Authenticity Edition

Where there is art there are authenticity questions. This week’s Top Art Stories focuses on the most recent authenticity issues as well as some other news for clever art collectors.

Stealing Banksy?

B_banksyThe selling exhibition of Banksy murals promoted as “the most expensive collection of Banksy artworks ever assembled” was held last week in London and was immediately criticized by the artist, (are we surprised?) who says that the exhibition was organized “without [his] involvement or consent”. The Sincura Group,  an events firm organizing the exhibition and auction sale removes Banksy murals from their original locations, raising some serious questions about the ethics of selling street art and the works’ authenticity. The company says that they have worked to preserve the murals illegally painted on buildings from vandalism, erosion or removal by the building owners. However, Pest Control, the company that acts on behalf of Banksy, has authenticated only one out of nine murals offered at auction putting into question the origin of the remaining works. The murals are priced between £100,000 and £500,000 which poses another question: according to the artists’ resale royalty laws, does Banksy then get a commission from these sales? Source: The Art Newspaper

A collector struggles to get a Rothko painting authenticated

R_banksyFor nearly 30 years a Hawaiian art collector Douglas Himmelfarb has been trying to prove that the painting he bought for $319.50 at auction in Los Angeles in 1987 is an authentic Mark Rothko painting. After conducting his own investigation and finding some plausible evidence of the painting’s authenticity, Mr. Himmelfarb contacted the Rothko family and experts who were reluctant to help, most likely due to the threat of costly litigation when offering an opinion on authenticity. In light of the recent art-fraud case that involved the Knoedler Gallery selling ‘newly discovered’ paintings by Mark Rothko and other Abstract Expressionists, some art experts have stopped giving their opinions altogether. The most recent record for a Rothko painting was set in 2012 when Orange, red, yellow sold at Sotheby’s for $86.9 million – to date the highest price ever fetched by a piece of contemporary art at auction. Source: Wall Street Journal

Christie’s greatest opportunity lies online

O_banksySteven Murphy, CEO at Christie’s spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the auction house’s global and virtual expansion. With 60 online-only auctions in a variety of categories held last year, Christie’s is hoping to continue its online strategy, getting well ahead of Sotheby’s that hasn’t taken advantage of the concept yet. Well, does this tendency threaten brick-and-mortar auctions? According to British insurer Hiscox, growth in online art sales will not undermine the business of auction houses as it has done to the movie, book and music businesses. The price point that works best for Christie’s online-only auctions is between £5000 and £1 million, leaving high-end works exclusively for traditional transactions. The online art market accounted for an estimated $1.6 billion in 2013 (up from $870 million in 2012) and is expected to reach $3.8 billion by 2018. Source: Wall Street Journal and Artfix daily

Watch Amelia Manderscheid of Christie’s talk about their online sales strategies during the IAIF in Miami

Anti-trust claim as protection from authentication boards

A_banksyAnd back to authenticity… If you have artworks by Lichtenstein, Warhol or Basquiat not vetted by a respective committee it might be a problem for you to put it on the market. The problem is that these authentication boards have recently closed and there is none to officially authenticate works by these artists and, as we all know, authenticity is inartistic to the value of art. It should be remembered thought that the principal function of artists’ foundations is not to protect collectors, but to preserve the legacy of artists they represent. Thus, when dealing with authentication committees collectors should be aware of the risks and the fact that some committees will examine the work only provided that the collector agrees not to bring any claims based on the results of authentication. Most recently, nine Keith Harring collectors bypassed such contract terms when they sued the Harring Foundation for $40 million for labeling their works fakes and thus destroying their value. Plaintiffs brought an anti-trust claim to the court and argued that the foundation “limited the number of Haring works in the public domain, thereby increasing the value of the Haring works that the foundation and its members own or sell.” Source: Artnet

Art prices continue to rise funneling some collectors to new market segments

P_banksyAccording to the latest market report issued by the European Fine Art Foundation average art auction prices have increased dramatically in the past 4 years – by 82% in the U.K. and by 100% in the U.S. And while this growth is representative of the market in general, the increase at the top end of the market is more tangible than at the lower level. Thus, many art collectors are prompted to focus entirely on prints and works on paper. With minimal returns, as contrasted to “investment grade”, works in this category are attracting collectors who are seeking pure aesthetic benefit as opposed to the monetary profit. Source: New York Times

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