“We do not like the turn things are taking,” says Véronique Wiesinger, the director of the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, referring to the increasing problem of authenticating art and the growing threats to boards and scholars (The Art Newspaper, December 2011, p1). In December, members of the foundation’s authentication committee were assaulted by three people attempting to steal a work from the foundation’s premises. Wiesinger says the perpetrators were an art dealer, his son and a Serbian “henchman”. One French source claimed the dealer was a brocanteur (flea market dealer).
The confrontation occurred after the authentication committee notified the dealer last summer that two bronze lamps were counterfeit. He made an appointment to return to the foundation on the same day as a committee meeting, ostensibly to learn more about the decision. But the meeting quickly turned into a fight, with the individuals grabbing back the two lamps as well as a genuine piece. Police were called and the trio were stopped as they left. “This is the third incident in two years,” says Wiesinger, who now has bodyguards present when the owners of forgeries visit the committee. She says that these meetings are sometimes “only a pretext”.
In France, authentication committees have the right to confiscate or destroy pieces deemed inauthentic. The Giacometti committee has returned counterfeits “against a signed agreement not to exhibit, sell or give away the piece”, Wiesinger says. But on several occasions, “we have seen some of these pieces back on the market,” she says. Now, “no matter what, we keep the piece and offer the owner a choice: either they are convinced by the report and agree to give the piece to the foundation, and in return, we offer to help them recover the cost if they want to file a suit. If they do not agree, we turn the piece [over] to the police and file a lawsuit to let the courts decide.”
The stakes are high in the Giacometti market: aside from the £65m paid for his Walking Man I, 1960, even lamps can be worth more than $100,000.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Authenticate at own risk'