Sunday, September 9, 2012

‘Judging’ fakes and real works

Legal thinking on questions of authenticity has evolved since a seminal case way back in 1929 involved the authenticity of a work ‘La Belle Ferronnière’ purportedly by Leonardo da Vinci. Then both a jury and judge got the opportunity to weigh in. Joseph Duveen, an art dealer was sued by the painting’s owners, for publicly calling it a copy. At that time jury included a shirt manufacturer, a furniture upholsterer and a real estate agent. Also, two artists were on the panel, ending up on opposite sides of a clearly hung jury.

With a deadlock reached, the New York State SC judge took that case back, and rejected argument by Duveen that artistic attribution wasn’t a question of fact, which could be settled in a court of law but a sheer matter of opinion. The judge ordered a second trial, and Duveen finally settled with the owner.

The settlement reached in the court in the Duveen case, for instance, could do little to alter the market’s own perception of ‘La Belle Ferronnière’. It remained unsold till 2010, when auction house Sotheby’s attributed the work to a follower of Leonardo da Vinci’s and sold it for $1.5 million. As records show, The New York Evening Post did understand limitations of the court in 1929, asking in an editorial: “How can anyone (in context of the Duveen case) outside of a comic opera expect the authenticity of an old artwork to be settled by a lawsuit?”

Mr. Spencer, editor of a research based volume, entitled ‘The Expert Versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts’, explained the obvious disconnect between the existing culture of commerce and the courtrooms. He added: “The standard of proof in civil litigation is ‘more likely than not.’ Now imagine yourself walking into an art gallery and viewing a Picasso painting. You ask, ‘Did he paint that?,’ and the dealer would say, ‘Yes, more likely than not.’ But you wouldn’t buy that.”  Just as a woman cannot be just ‘a little bit pregnant’, an artwork cannot be ‘a little bit real’.

No comments:

Post a Comment