Art forgers face a new challenge from high-tech authenticators

Separating originals from fakes has become a risky business but new tools help spot the cheats

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In a market blighted by fakes and forgeries, art experts have faced legal action and even death threats for refusing to authenticate works as original. After years of mounting pressure, specialists are responding by establishing an organisation to give them confidence to express opinions without fear of retaliation.

The International Catalogue Raisonné Association is a not-for-profit group that will support the production of definitive inventories of an artist’s accepted artworks. It was launched in June at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, with the aim of helping to limit the flow of fakes, partly by giving authenticators access to discounted specialist legal advice.

“At a time when authenticity committees are closing down, and experts are being threatened and becoming concerned about expressing an opinion for fear of retaliation, it is really important that scholars and experts have a place where they can feel free to talk, discuss and share,” says ICRA founder Pierre Valentin, head of the art and cultural property practice at law firm Constantine Cannon in London.

After drugs and prostitution, art is considered to be the world’s largest unregulated market. Even art specialists are unable to say how many works are fakes. As long ago as the 1920s, the wealthy UK dealer Joseph Duveen was sued after voicing doubts about a now-discredited Leonardo da Vinci. But authenticators generally were free to express their views until the art price explosion of the past three decades. Some authenticators are silenced for fear of litigation, raising concerns forgeries will go undetected and leave owners and potential buyers struggling to sort fakes from originals.

The Andy Warhol Foundation disbanded its authentication board after a 2007 lawsuit over its refusal to authenticate a silkscreen print. The foundation does not deny reports its legal costs ran to millions of dollars, and says the experience prompted its decision to close the board and spend its money on “artists, not lawyers”.

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