The Expert versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts

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The authenticity of visual art has always commanded the attention of experts, dealers, collectors, and the art-minded public. Is it "real" or "original" is a way of asking what am I buying? What do I own? What am I looking at? And today more sophisticated questions are being asked: How is authenticity determined and what weight does this determination have in court? This book of essays proposes to answer those questions.

Three lines of inquiry are basic to determining authenticity: a connoisseur's evaluation, historical documentation or provenance, and scientific testing. A connoisseur is an expert who evaluates the "rightness" of a work based on much careful scrutiny of many works by an artist and familiarity with that artist's usual manner of working with materials. In determining provenance, a researcher traces the physical object from the artist through a chain of ownership to the present owner—simple enough in concept, though it assumes that the documentation is not faked or inaccurate. The goal is to ensure that the object is the same one that left the artist's hand. Scientific testing, although sometimes useful, is often longer on promise than result. Dating paint or wood samples, for instance, can show that a painting was made in Rembrandt's lifetime, but it cannot prove that it is by Rembrandt's hand. If expert opinion is divided, and large sums of money are involved, a dispute over authenticity may end up in a court of law, where evaluation of expert opinion evidence can be problematic.

The essays in this book clarify the nature of the methods outlined above and explain, based on case law, the present status of authentication issues in court. Contributors include experts from Christie's, London; Sotheby's, New York; and the former director of the Frick Collection; as well as leading art historians and art dealers; an art conservator; a forensic graphologist; a philanthropist and collector; and a specialist in French art law. Their collective knowledge on issues of authenticity will be invaluable for anyone interested in the world of visual art.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This important collection of essays makes clear that lawyers and courts now perform a crucial function in the art world both in avoiding and in resolving disputes regarding the authenticity and attribution of works of art.... As [Spencer] writes, 'one goal of this book is to help lawyers advise their clients and judges to arrive at more informed decisions'.... Mr. Spencer has succeeded admirably. For both lawyers and other art market professionals, this book should become required reading."—New York Law Journal

"[These] contributions of acknowledged and eminent, undoubtedly, the best of contemporary thought on matters such as attribution, cataloguing, scientific testing, and 'the trade.'"—The New Criterion

"Ronald Spencer has put together a series of excellent essays written by leaders in the field and true connoisseurs. Spencer takes a look at this elephant of a topic from many different points of view and will leave the reader vastly more knowledgeable.... This is an essential book for attorneys involved in the art business and a wakeup call for the industry to provide a forum in which an unbiased consensus can be made about art attributions by the scholars qualified to make them.... An unequivocal endorsement of The Expert versus the Object is in order."—Antiques Weekly

"This book is a valuable guide to the pitfalls and traps in the authentication of works of art and the legal ramifications thereof.... Provide[s] a roadmap for amateurs that locates most of the traps. It is also valuable in spelling out the specialised field of art law."—The Art Newspaper

"[An] exceptionally absorbing fresh anthology of articles about authenticating fake artworks.... Spencer's volume, with its sound contributions from 14 experts, will provide the potential art buyer virtually all the tantalizing questions needed to help him make an informed purchase and should not dissuade such a buyer from transacting."—IFAR Journal

"In this instructive book, art-world attorney Ronald D. Spencer attempts to demystify authentication by inviting a group of experts to weigh in on the subject.... Spencer sets a fine table for a compelling discussion about authenticity."—Artnews

"Well produced; reasonably priced. Highly recommended."—Choice

"This book raises and answers a number of fascinating questions relating to the authenticity of works of art. It addresses both the practical and philosophical issues involved in connoisseurship and authentication, and it very nicely connects those issues to the legal disputes that arise when the authenticity of a work of art is challenged. The Expert Versus the Object brings together essays by a wide range of specialists in various fields and is an essential source for anyone who is interested in buying, collecting, studying, or simply looking at art."—Jack Flam, Distinguished Professor of Art History, City University of New York

"This excellent book is about a very interesting and perplexing question: How do we ascertain who created a particular painting, sculpture, etc? When such a question is presented in a court of law, what information and criteria would a judge use to form his opinion?"—Robert Mnuchin, Chairman, C&M Arts, New York City

"A thorough and highly readable exposition of the processes involved in authenticating and attributing works of art and the issues they pose in varied aspects of the art world. Eloquently addressing the legal complications which can inhibit the expression of expert opinions, this book will further a better understanding of how such challenges should be weighed in our courts, as well as in our minds."—Richard E. Oldenburg, Honorary Chairman, Sotheby's, North and South America, and Director Emeritus, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

"Required reading for anyone who owns or buys a work of art."—Joel Wachs, President, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195147353
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/9/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 994,732
  • Lexile: 1530L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald D. Spencer is counsel to the New York City law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP where he specializes in art law and foundation law. He is expert in the legal aspects of art authentication issues, advises several committees and boards of art authentication experts, and has helped defend legal claims involving decisions on authenticity.

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Table of Contents

1 Authenticating the Attribution of Art: Connoisseurship and the Law in the Judging of Forgeries, Copies, and False Attributions 3
2 Rembrandt and a Brief History of Connoisseurship 29
3 On Forgeries 39
4 Issues of Authenticity in the Auction House 45
5 The Catalogue Raisonne 55
6 The Role of the Catalogue Raisonne in the Art Market 63
7 "The Authentic Will Win Out" 73
8 Attributing Old Master Drawings 79
9 Signature Identification: From Pen Stroke to Brush Stroke 89
10 The International Foundation for Art Research 95
11 Museums and Authenticity Issues 103
12 Examining the Techniques and Materials of Paintings 111
13 Preservation and Authenticity in Contemporary Art 125
14 The Art Expert, the Law, and Real Life 135
15 The Risk of Legal Liability for Attributions of Visual Art 143
16 Authentication in Court: Factors Considered and Standard Proposed 189
17 A Legal Decision in New York Gives Experts Protection for Their Opinions on Authenticity 217
18 Establishing Authenticity in French Law 227
Index 235
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