Curator of Intent to Deceive and art fraud expert
Fakes and forgeries were once the dirty little secret of the art world, and no gallery, museum or auction house has ever been entirely free from the embarrassment of a costly error of misattribution or faulty provenance. In today’s art world, the bungling of authentication makes big news and can no longer be silenced or swept under the rug. Duped museum and art experts, though by no means vindicated, may now find comfort in a growing public interest in deciphering these costly mistakes. A recent flurry of books, conferences and exhibitions dedicated to fakes, forgeries, mistakes, and misattributions is evidence that the age-old art of forgery has never intrigued the public more than it does today.
Even though profit and greed are often assumed to be the underlying motive for forgery, the psychological underpinning of these grand deceptions is actually far more complex than a simple scheme for financial gain. The artistic and psychological profiles of the forgers featured in Intent to Deceive, combined with a detailed description of the techniques and tactics used to create massive fraud in the art world, serve as a cautionary tale for any serious collector, investor, or institution accepting patron donations. This exhibition also serves as a wake-up call to those interested in preserving cultural heritage.
The ingenious forgers profiled in this exhibition were responsible for some of the most infamous scandals of the last century. Han Van Meegeren, Elmyr de Hory, and Eric Hebborn all rocked the art world with their exploits, garnering worldwide notoriety, and coincidentally, suffering untimely deaths. More recently, forgers John Myatt and “Father” Mark Landis have been in the news for their prolific and stylistically diverse art frauds, landing one in prison, with the other managing to escape prosecution. Included in each forger profile in this exhibition, are original works, personal effects and ephemera, photographs, film clips, and representations of the materials and techniques each used to create such convincing and successful forgeries.
Forgery and art are intimately connected; they have coexisted for as long as there has been a high demand and corresponding limited supply of desirable and original artworks. All of the forgers profiled in Intent to Deceive possessed not only artistic talent, but the ability to create and perpetuate a con that paved the way for acceptance of their work into the legitimate art market. In profiling their lives and careers, this exhibition points to common and recurring patterns: frustrated artistic ambitions, chaotic personal lives, and a contempt for the art market and its “experts.” Despite their creative powers, each subject in this exhibition suffered a common, fundamental lack: the vision that would allow them to fit into the modernist paradigm, a value system that places primacy above all else. In each case, the forger was most successful at imitating a past genre of art, its motifs and its techniques, and held the older genre in higher esteem than the contemporary. Unable to make a career in an art market that no longer valued their preferred style of artistic expression, these artists found forgery and fakery to be their most accessible avenue to public recognition and commercial success.
The shocking implication of the actions of these scandalous rogues is that their mis-attributed works have the ability to effectively sabotage the hierarchy of art and culture.
A forgery pretends to be something that it is not, affecting our concept of originality and distorting the art historical record. Ascribing authenticity to an object is to provide a verifiable link to its maker—a connection to the author, moment and circumstances of its creation. A forgery severs the thread that connects a specific work to a specific artist, distorting the relationship upon which its value is determined. It appropriates an original idea from another creative personality, assuming a false pedigree and, undiscovered, occupying a place in art history that it does not deserve.
Marketplace complicity may well be the greatest obstacle in remedying the proliferation of art fakes and forgeries. The inability of the art market to self-police or lobby for enforceable civil and criminal laws creates the opportunity for robust criminal enterprise. In an industry that suffers from a lack of transparency, the problem is one everyone recognizes but few have the incentive to fix in the face of indomitable self-interest. It is the rare dealer or auction house that has not transacted, inadvertently or intentionally, in works of doubtful integrity.
Colette Loll is the founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, a consultancy specializing in art fraud related lectures, training and specialized investigation of artworks. Ms. Loll was the CEO of a marketing and software company for 15 years before leaving the business world to earn a Master of Arts degree in the History of Decorative Arts from the Smithsonian/Corcoran College of Art+Design. Her interest in issues related to authenticity propelled her to Italy for post graduate studies in International Art Crime through a program sponsored by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), an international non-profit and interdisciplinary research group dedicated to contemporary issues in art crime and cultural property protection. After her studies, and while living in Europe, Ms. Loll served as director of Public and Institutional Relations for ARCA while conducting her own research into the lives and careers of prolific art forgers of the 20th and 21st century.
Since returning to the United States, she has been involved in several independent projects related to the topic of fine art forgery and art forensics including participating in documentary film projects, serving as the lead researcher in attribution and authentication investigations, providing research for a historical biography, conducting forensic investigations for private collectors on suspect artworks, and curating several exhibitions. Ms. Loll has lectured widely at universities, museums, and forensic institutes in the U.S. and Europe and trains Federal agents in forgery investigations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cultural Heritage Protection Program. She was recently invited to give a presentation on art fraud at Interpol’s inaugural International Conference on Counterfeit Art.
Past lectures include: the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), University of Budapest (Hungary), the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris (Paris, France), Interpol Headquarters (Lyon, France), Cranfield Forensic Institute, (UK), West Dean College (UK), Stony Brook University, (Manhattan, NY), Sulgrave Club (Washington, DC)and Washington Conservation Guild (Washington, DC). Her work integrates the ideals she is passionate about: truth, authenticity and stewardship; and she is committed to educational outreach on the topics of art forgery, cultural heritage crimes, and the emerging role of forensic science in the attribution process.