The harsh reality of art collecting — and forgery: “I never thought that people could be so rude and skeptical”

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The harsh reality of art collecting — and forgery: “I never thought that people could be so rude and skeptical”

Think about it: There are experts who say that half of the art sold at auction is fake.

Correspondent Erin Moriarty, who explores the harsh realities of art collecting and counterfeiting, spoke with a woman struggling to prove the authenticity of a collection of drawings and graffiti she purchased in early 2017.

When Tracey Finch encountered the collection in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the primitive figures and vibrant colors reminded one artist.

“Maybe Jean-Michel Basquiat,” she said.

Basquiat was initially known for his provocative graffiti under the name SAMO, but in the early 1980s, major New York galleries began exhibiting his work, and other artists such as Andy Warhol collaborated with him. That’s how I became a famous artist. In 1988, when Basquiat was 27 years old, he died of a drug overdose.

An art history major in college, Finch purchased over 100 paintings, some of which were little more than scraps of paper. She believes they are Basquiat’s early works, but won’t say exactly how much she paid for them.

“Thousands. That’s all,” said Finch.

Finding a lost masterpiece is every art lover’s fantasy. As a New York nurse discovered last year that the painting on her wall was actually the work of noted American artist Jacob Lawrence. What hasn’t been done is how difficult it is to prove that the find isn’t fake.

“I never thought people would continue to be so rude and skeptical,” Finch said. “Even the friend who said, ‘There’s no such thing as a real job. You can’t do that.'”

What Finch encountered parallels the course of the art world today. This is a mostly unregulated business and even the most savvy art he collector can end up with fake art.

“The best fakes are still hanging on people’s walls,” jokes Sharon Flecher, who runs the International Foundation for Art Research known as IFAR.

“It’s the history of the art world because traditionally a lot of the deal was done with a handshake,” she said. , with artwork prices rising, there’s a lot of room for hanky-panky.”

For example, in October 2021, a longtime New York gallery owner pleaded guilty to selling counterfeit antiques and getting away with it for 30 years.

“The moment you get something of great value, it could be art, it could be an antique, a rare comic book, a coin, a baseball card, any collectible. will be done,” says art certifier Richard. Polski said.

Polsky is one of the few experts willing to examine a painting to determine its authenticity, but when it comes to Basquiat, he has to make a lot of money. In 2017, one painting sold for his $110 million.

“Authentication is based on two things: what the object looks like and what its backstory is,” he said. “Read a book, go to an exhibition, go to a museum show, whatever. It’s like learning about great wine. You have to drink a lot. See a lot.”

But with so much money at stake, some art collectors don’t always accept his conclusions.

“People are very passionate about the art they own, and if you say, ‘Look, I’m really sorry, but here’s the proof, it’s not.’ , they will chase you.”

A costly lawsuit, or worse, according to Polsky.

“I had my life threatened once,” he said.

So even the legacies of many famous artists such as Keith Haring, Warhol and Basquiat no longer authenticate the work of their own artists. And it’s also a problem for people in the art world.

In June, the FBI conducted a house raid. Orlando Museum of Art After confiscating some of Basquiat’s exhibits, an investigation raised questions about their authenticity. But Tracy Finch, who is confident her collection is authentic, enlisted a number of experts to prove it.

“I have ink dates, handwriting. I have two art scholars now,” she said.

Finch said these experts told her that the ink used was available in 1980 and that the signatures found on some of the pieces looked authentic. However, Richard Polsky, who has not personally examined Finch’s collection, said it remains necessary to clarify how these works came from Basquiat’s hands to hers.

“Does the backstory matter?” he said. “He came to us and said, ‘I was one of Basquiat’s girlfriends. He gave me this as a gift.’ I was able to confirm it with some examples. ”

And that might be Tracey Finch’s biggest challenge. She says she bought the pieces from an artist named Kevin Doyle who met Basquiat in 1980. each other.

“I never asked for proof, but I believe him,” she said.

Doyle told us the same story that Basquiat gave him the job, but there are still many skeptics.

“There are a lot of people in the art world who don’t believe him,” Finch said. “They don’t believe the story. But some do because they see the artwork and see what I see.”

Finch admits she may never know if this is the work of a budding Basquiat or a seasoned counterfeiter. He says he found a buyer who will buy it at

Nonetheless, she can’t quite shake her hopes of being just a thrift store away from finding lost masterpieces.

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