The Perils of Art Authentication

On June 07, 2017, the New York Senate passed Bill S1974 and delivered it to the New York Assembly– a proposal that has been stalled in the state legislature for three years. The purpose of the Bill is “to enhance protections under the law for individuals who are employed as art authenticator in the visual arts community.” If enacted into law, it will be the first of its kind in United States to explicitly protect art authenticators.

But what has prompted legislative intervention to protect art authenticators? The Bill comes after an increasing number of frivolous lawsuits against New York authenticators. Such claims have resulted in authenticators ceasing to offer their services and abandon their profession due to the exorbitant costs of litigation. Even prominent artist foundations such as the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation have dissolved their authentication boards.

“Untitled” by Jackson Pollock was one of the counterfeit works involved in the Knoedler Gallery forgery scandal.

Senator Betty Little, the Bill’s sponsor, corroborates these claims by stating, “In recent years, the work of authenticators has come under pressure from meritless lawsuits against those who render opinions in good faith. Such defense of expensive and frivolous lawsuits has left many in the industry reluctant to lend their expertise in authenticating art works.”

As such, collectors have found it increasingly difficult to find experts willing to authenticate art. An absence of authentication poses a significant threat to the functioning of the art market: diminishing consumer confidence, disrupting commerce and increasing the number of forgeries entering and devaluing the market.

There is no doubt that authenticators need protection from frivolous claims. Their opinions play an integral role in the fine art market by preserving art values, preventing art forgery and fraud, and providing assurance to collectors, which promotes the purchase and sale of art.

While the passing of the bill may encourage authenticators to resume their profession, some may argue that it will be more difficult for collectors to seek recourse should they be sold a forgery, which also has the potential to seriously affect the sale of artwork.

Are you an art collector? What’s your opinion on the Bill? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.