There's always been plenty of handwringing about how commerce affects the content and distribution of art, but now it has come to the point where astronomical prices have pushed aside the basic truth of whether a work is a forgery.
In today's New York Times, Patricia Cohen reports a fascinatingly sad state of affairs: Works of art have become worth so much money that their owners are likelier than ever to sue experts whose opinions might devalue the works.
Why speak truth to money? Certain buyers would rather protect their work's value than know its source. (Cultural theoreticians, start your engines.)
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and the Noguchi Museum have all stopped authenticating works to avoid litigation. In January the Courtauld Institute of Art in London cited “the possibility of legal action” when it canceled a forum discussing a controversial set of some 600 drawings attributed to Francis Bacon. And the leading experts on Degas have avoided publicly saying whether 74 plasters attributed to him are a stupendous new find or an elaborate hoax.
Experts have always been susceptible to lawsuits, but the economics have shifted the risk onto their side.
“Legal cage rattling was always part of the process,” said Nancy Mowll Mathews, president of the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association. But the staggering rise in art prices has transformed the cost-benefit analysis of suing at the same time that fraud has become more profitable, she said.
Jack Cowart, the executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, said: "Why should we go stand in front of a speeding car?"
Expect more fakes and fewer recognitions of new authentic works if this keeps up. Surely there's an artist out there who'd like to manipulate this situation as a piece of art itself? Calling Caleb Larsen?