Breaking the silence over fakes

April 18 2012

Image of Breaking the silence over fakes

Picture: TAN

There's a very interesting piece in The Art Newspaper by Jack Flam, the author of the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonne, on the subject of fakes and expertise. There have been a number of fake Motherwells on the market lately, and he has direct experience of the difficulties experts face when threatened by lawsuits. It creates, he says, a dangerous atmosphere of silence. His solution?

Two somewhat different ways of remedying this situation should be considered. The first would be to establish a properly constituted authority—similar to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority—with limited immunity from lawsuits, which would oversee the authentication of works by modern US artists. Doing so would rectify the topsy-turvy relationship between scholars, dealers and collectors, and would keep the authors of catalogues raisonnés and the foundations that often support them from being cowed into silence. Information would circulate more freely and experts would be able to pass judgments on works without getting entangled in complicated legal messes. 

Another approach would be to pass legislation in the US that would give experts and scholars the kind of legal protection they now generally receive in the UK, where statements about authenticity may be protected as “opinions” and thereby be generally exempt from lawsuits. 

Option 2 sounds most sensible to me. Or, better still, move to London! I find it strange that in the freedom of speech-loving US, where libel laws are more relaxed than in the UK, scholars are restricted from giving their view at all.

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