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Panel Discussion on Art Authentication Held in New York

posted by Michael Fahlund — Feb 18, 2010

“Authenticating Art: Current Problems and Proposed Solutions” was the topic for a panel presentation and discussion sponsored by CAA and the Appraisers Association of America. Held on January 20, 2010, the event was hosted by and took place in the auditorium of the Levin Institute in Manhattan for its 120 guests.

The panelists were: John Cahill of the New York–based law firm Lynn and Cahill; Jane Jacob from Jacob Fine Art, an art consultancy in Chicago; James Martin of Orion Analytical, a materials analysis and consultancy firm based in Williamstown, Massachusetts; and Jane Levine from the auction house Sotheby’s New York. Michele Marincola, a professor of conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, served as moderator for the discussion.

CAA’s new best practices on Authentications and Attributions, approved in October 2009, played an important referential role among myriad opinions offered by legal experts, conservators, gallery owners, and material analysts—to say nothing of the various aspects of law that may apply to collectors, buyers and sellers, appraisers, and auction houses. Indeed, the guidelines were praised by panelists and audience members for their “reasoned and thoughtful advice” and recommended repeatedly as an essential resource on the subject.

Panel presentations cited specific circumstances surrounding well-known art forgeries by Greek and Roman sculptors from as far back as two millennia, to more recent master forgerers, including Elmyr de Hory, Eric Hebborn, John Myatt, and Leo Nardus. One of the most famous forgeries by Han van Meegeren, of Johannes Vemeer’s Supper at Emmaus, was completed in 1937 and sold for what today would be well over $2.5 million. Some forgerers also borrowed authentic works of art from collectors, copied the work, returned the undetected copy to the owner, and then sold the original to a third party. Historical and modern-day problems with attribution, revelations during conservation procedures, and new analytical techniques and forensic equipment were also presented. Similarly, matters of law such as breach of contract, false certificates of authenticity, and false (but not criminal) representation or court testimony were highlighted.

The evening was informative, provocative, and timely but lacked one critical professional perspective: namely, that of the art historian, art-museum curator, or art connoisseur. Indeed, art-historical documentation, stylistic connoisseurship, and scientific analysis are the three aspects of authentication that create a “consensus of evidence” as recommended in the CAA guidelines. Were it not for this shortcoming, the event would have enlightened even further the practice, if not the controversy, of art authentication.

For interested members who will attend CAA’s centennial Annual Conference in New York in 2011, the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association (a CAA affiliated society) will present a panel on authentication that addresses issues confronted by art historians and curators who authenticate.