The Art Market: Forging links
By Georgina Adam
Published: February 25 2011 16:04 | Last updated: February 25 2011 16:04
‘Nothing Matters/The Empty Chair’ (2008) by Damien Hirst
It may be the biggest faking scandal in art market history. At least 1,100 fake Giacometti sculptures were seized in a police swoop on a warehouse near Mainz, Germany, in 2009: a haul of 831 fake bronzes and 131 fake plaster casts. The total value would be hundreds of millions of dollars, if the pieces were genuine.
The trial of five suspected forgers has been going on for months in Stuttgart, and now a first verdict has been handed down in court. Three of those in the dock – two art dealers from Wiesbaden and the wife of a Mainz art dealer – have pleaded guilty to fraud and forgery and were sentenced to two years’ prison, suspended, plus a fine for two of them. The others, the Mainz art dealer, and a self-proclaimed “count”, Lothar Wilfried Senka, have admitted some of the charges but deny others; this case continues.
Véronique Wiesinger, director of the Paris-based Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation, says the fakes were probably fabricated in China and then channelled through Taiwan; from there they were shipped to German ports and entered the art market. “One couple of German collectors spent €4m buying 50 of these forgeries through an adviser,” she says. “Others were sold in minor German auction houses.”
Museums have acquired fakes as well, according to Wiesinger, who believes there are “many other people in this ring”. She says the forgeries are often poor quality: “In some, the counterfeiters were obviously working from photographs so only had one view; they simply guessed what the backs were like.”
Stuttgart prosecutor Dr Mirja Feldmann says that the “count”, identified in media reports as Senka, claims the sculptures came from Giacometti’s brother Diego. Feldmann also told me that the Mainz art dealer has admitted that he thought that the sculptures were fakes, but says that he owned the plasters and never had any intention of selling them. He also admitted issuing provenance certificates. A verdict is expected this spring.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to raise awareness of the whole issue of counterfeiting, Wiesinger has launched the Prix Annette Giacometti pour le droit des œuvres et des artistes. The €10,000 prize is for a project – an exhibition, an article or an internet site – drawing attention to the problem of artists’ rights. “Illegal reproductions and forgeries are a massive problem. The current law dealing with trademarks is inadequate in the art field,” says Wiesinger. The winner will be announced in May.