15 years

October 27 2011

Image of 15 years

Picture: morgenweb.de

The German forgers who duped Christie's and Sotheby's, museums, academics and even celebrities with their 'Ernsts' and 'van Dongens' have been jailed for a total of 15 years. The maximum individual sentence was six years to Wolfgang Beltracchi, the leader of the group who painted 14 works sold as 'masterpieces'.

The sentences seem quite light. The more lasting damage will be done in the German and wider modern art market, reports Bloomberg:

Dealers and collectors say confidence in the German art market has been shaken by the forgery scandal, described as the biggest ever in Germany, as art historians, museums and auction houses were duped by the scam.

“The whole thing is quite terrible,” said Christoph Graf Douglas, a Frankfurt-based independent art dealer and consultant to collectors. “It has completely undermined confidence in the market. Not only were criminals at work, there was also some shoddy research. People have bought the idea that experts can detect forgeries, and this shows that is not the case.”

The case is a damning indictment of how we value and appreciate modern and contemporary art. Today, the name of the artist is worth more than the quality of the work. And because we can no longer objectively judge modern and contemporary work on its merits, we are suckers to the clever forger. Even if the forger creates a truly rubbish painting, like the 'van Dongen' above, he can persuade auctioneers, experts and buyers that it is genuine with a few simple pieces of fake provenance, or a corrupt 'expert'. In fact, it's so easy, I'm tempted to have a go myself. 

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