Art Fakes, Swindlers and the (almost) impunity of the unregulated market.

The minefield of the art market today, in a story. We are onboarding a new client. Let’s call him Mr X who, similarly to my generational peers, is attracted by the idea of starting a collection as a way to diversify the investment portfolio.

As any new collector would do, he is researching the market and shopping around to understand who supplies the most fitting services and where he can buy his first works at a good deal. I could go on endlessly about what a “good deal” means when it comes to acquiring a work of art. Instead, what prompted me to write this article aligns with the reason we started Artscapy, a point I will make obvious: there exists a segment of the art industry that is rotten and no one is doing anything about it.

In this case I’ll focus on a specific segment of the market: the entry-level blue chip and the so-called “investment grade” art. For the most part, this investment target comprises limited editions and works on paper by famous highly sought-after artists by the collecting community mostly for three reasons: their relative affordability to collect well-known names and the volatility and the liquidity of this market segment. In the spirit of transparency, I also started my collecting journey with this segment, which I still enjoy and follow. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, and these artists are revered for a reason, but what I’m pointing out are the swindlers taking advantage of the unregulated market. 

So, let’s get into the story. Mr X has been offered a work on paper in chalk allegedly attributed to Keith Haring, coming from a NYC subway station, for some £40-odd thousand. When I saw the work I jumped from my chair. 

Whoever has been in this field long enough knows that these works are more often than not, counterfeit. Every few years, the press erupts with scandal (refer to just a few newspaper articles I've listed below, obtained with a quick 5-second Google search on the topic). The uproar dies down, and these pieces vanish from the market temporarily, only to resurface like stubborn weeds later on.

Now, let's delve into reality. Despite his brief career, Keith Haring emerged as a trailblazing artist within the pop art movement, celebrated worldwide for the profound messages embedded in his artistic expression. Consequently, pieces of this calibre by Keith Haring are not only scarce but also extensively documented, commanding prices ranging in the six to seven figures within the market. So £40,000 is quite a steal for an original Haring, wouldn’t you say? Indeed, as a respected colleague from one of the top three auction houses aptly stated, "Unfortunately, without at least provenance, this would open a can of worms!"

As you can see from the cropped* image below of the artwork in question, the trait of the chalk has many interruptions. Well, beside the social and political messages, and the iconic style, almost the whole point of Keith Haring fame resides in one aspect of his drawing practice: continuous line. So, this artwork not only has no provenance or cataloguing but it’s also quite poorly executed… and that’s just sad.

The artwork has been proposed by one of the self-proclaimed “investment galleries” that are plaguing the art industry. A gallery with brick-and-mortar operations whose purpose should be to protect and guide new collectors, not to scam them. But all they do is to pressurise and misinform people with predatory sales tactics, but selling fake is a different game. It’s a criminal offence. 

I shared my concerns with Mr X and urged him to consider two crucial questions:

  1. Given the dubious nature of these drawings, was the seller transparent about their authenticity? Were they readily able to share provenance documentation? 
  2. If not, how can you trust this seller or organisation?

Through this conversation, I may have been able to prevent Mr X from wasting his money, disappointment and disillusionment with the art market . Nevertheless, it leads me to wonder how many others have fallen victim to similar traps.

There seems to be no support for individuals like Mr X, and these organisations persist in profiting from the trust of new collectors. These collectors rely on them as experts to navigate their initial journeys into art collecting, aiming to acquire meaningful works with potential value upside. Yet, without intervention or accountability, these organisations continue to exploit this trust for their gain.

Unfortunately, the Art Industry is not regulated and people don’t know what they don’t know. After all, when someone affirms and re-affirms that a work is genuine, why would you think they are lying to you? As an outsider, who is going to tell you that the gallery-issued “certificate of authenticity” of a not legally represented artist, is worthless?

The objectification and commodification of art is not a novelty, but the idea that you can make money out of it FAST, NOW, and with BIG BUCKS is a narrative that unfortunately remains the reality that we have to live with.The unregulated art market remains a minefield for the unwary. Artscapy was founded on transparency and integrity, aiming to guide collectors through this complex landscape with honesty and expertise. We’re here to build long-term collections that stand the test of time and respect the dynamics of this cultural asset (class). As we navigate these challenges, let us remember that the true value of art lies in its capacity to enrich our lives and culture. It's time for the art world to adopt a more ethical approach, protecting the interests of collectors and preserving the integrity of art for future generations.


*In avoidance of legal or even worse physical threats I won’t publish the full image.

Keith Haring Foundation legal issues:

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