There’s a consensus, though, that the very obstacles to determining authenticity highlighted by Knoedler and Beltracchi are still formidable, because the ways of doing business have changed little, if at all.
Consider provenance. If a work can be traced from the current owner back to the artist, it’s almost a guarantee of authenticity. But the art market is notorious for its lack of transparency. With galleries as middlemen, even the seller’s name often isn’t disclosed to the buyer. The Knoedler collectors handed over millions despite the fact that the fictitious owner was never named. The gallery itself knew him only as Mr. X. (Mr. X was concocted by Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales, who brought the forgeries to Knoedler; in 2013 she pleaded guilty to tax evasion, wire fraud, and money laundering.)
Seller anonymity will likely remain one of the rules of the game. “I don’t see things changing regarding willingness of participants to identify themselves, so due diligence can be difficult,” says Judd Grossman, who represented the first collector to sue Knoedler and Freedman. (Ten lawsuits were filed. Four, including Grossman’s, settled on undisclosed terms.) “Sellers have the right to remain anonymous,” says Achim Moeller of Moeller Fine Art.
Even if there’s documentary evidence of provenance, it too can be convincingly forged. Beltracchi told buyers the fakes were collected by his wife’s grandparents. He took photographs of her posed before an array of his forgeries and dressed in decades-old styles. “It was brilliant,” comments art adviser Liz Klein.