Fake certificates fuel art mart fraud
When the art mart was still hot and there were as many fakes as there were originals, the only way one could be sure that one was not shelling out a small fortune to be landed with a dud was to obtain an authenticity certificate for a fee from an “expert”. That meant anyone who has written on art or has rubbed shoulders with artists, but not necessarily with the right academic qualifications. Now, even authenticity certificates are being counterfeited.
About a week ago, gallerist Vikram Bachhawat was offered a “Ganesh Pyne” along with an authenticity certificate by a well-known Calcutta art critic. Bachhawat was told that the certificate was obtained a few days ago, although the “expert” was visiting the US at that time. The broker was not prepared for this eventuality.
According to Bachhawat, the local market in fakes would be about Rs 1.5 crore, against Rs 35 crore across India.
Photoshop and other image-editing software have made it easier for signatures to be forged. The original certificate is scanned and only the painting on it is changed and substituted with another work, arguably fake — for unless a work is authenticated by the artist himself, his family or a reputable gallery there is always a shadow of doubt about its genuineness.
“Experts” authenticate a work for anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 50,000, depending on the importance of the artist, and if the verdict is positive, one is able to pocket the fee. With better reproductions of paintings in books, it is easier to replicate works in demand. Prakash Karmakar, Sunil Das, Swaminathan, Jamini Roy, M.F. Husain and Souza clones proliferate.
Pyne says the business of churning out fakes has gone beyond control. “I spoke to a police officer about the problem of counterfeit paintings and he said the police could do nothing about it as ‘highly connected people’ were involved,” says the artist, whose works are tough to imitate.
Paritosh Sen’s widow, Jayashree, says recently some artists wanted her to certify that their works were copies of original Paritosh Sen paintings. “But some artists known to me cautioned me against it,” she added. Ever since his death last year, fakes of his works have been in circulation.
Artist Aditya Basak says some time ago, a Delhi gallerist was offered a “Ramkinkar sculpture” by a broker along with an authentication certificate without a photograph, but when the “expert” concerned was cross-checked he said the document was meant for another work.
The Internet has facilitated the business of fake art via email. Gallerist Abhijit Lath says: “I often get an image of a painting and an image of an authenticity certificate, usually signed by a dead artist like Paritosh Sen. I received such emails a couple of times last month from various sources. Fakes made in Calcutta like the Paritosh Sen paintings are sold elsewhere. Here they will be caught out immediately.”
If Lath has doubts about a work’s authenticity, he calls it “a fake” straightaway. “That is one way of getting out of the loop. Even if proved a fake one cannot take a painting out of the market. I would rather depend on my own experience.”
Fakes comprise at least a tenth of the real market, he asserts. Lath prescribes thorough scrutiny of a work, including its provenance, as the only safeguards against buying a fake. One should first demand to see the original. Next it should be checked by an expert in that particular artist’s work. Most reputable galleries would know where to get a work authenticated.
To be sure of the work’s provenance, “it should be written on a stamp paper which one should get notarised stating that it is not a stolen good, and that it has been in one’s family for a certain number of years. One can never trust an unfamiliar source,” said Lath.
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE
No specific rules. Depend on an experienced eye. Technique, lines, signature and age of work are other indicators
Bikash Bhattacharjee mostly used oil. One becomes suspicious if it is an acrylic
Ganesh Pyne uses tempera, watercolour and crayons. But an oil painting by Pyne is a no-no
Jogen Chowdhury’s strong point are his lines. In a fake the lines will lack the power of the original
To find out if a canvas has been aged artificially, put it to the soap and water test. If a canvas is really old, its patina cannot be cleaned with soap and water
The safest bet is buying art from a reputable gallerist