Bargain Art Online? Surprise! It’s Fake

Posted on September 18, 2012


Every day, shoppers purchase artwork labeled as “original” and “authentic” at closeout prices online. As the New York Times reports, these works are often fake or misleadingly labeled.

The expanding prominence of e-commerce has led to a wide spectrum of Web sites hosted by artists and galleries that legitimately sell artwork online. The growth of these sites, however, has made it easier for less reputable sellers to pass off their fakes and forgeries as authentic. Most often, these fakes and forgeries consist of unauthorized reproductions, authorized reproductions with forged signatures, and just plain forgeries.

Artwork sold online often includes a “certificate of authenticity.” These certificates do not actually prove as a measure of authenticity unless the artist of the work or her authorized dealer has signed it. Registry certificates – certificates that attest someone has registered a work – also do not speak to a work’s authenticity. Sellers need only fill out a form and pay $10 to print out a registry certificate from the National Fine Arts Title Registry’s Web site.

The sheer amount of fakes and forgeries online is staggering. On just one Web site, there are 2,005 fake Giacometti sculptures for sale. Statisticians at George Washington University and the University of California, Irvine have estimated that 91 percent of Henry Moore drawings and sculptures sold on eBay are fake.