Sunday, June 04, 2006

Authenticating the Authenticator (UPDATED)

You never know where you'll find some art law. James Wood's review of Peter Carey's new book, Theft: A Love Story, in the new issue of the London Review of Books, begins this way:

"Last year, Louis Knickerbocker, a meat distributor from Newport Beach, California, bought a Picasso drawing from the online service of Costco for $40,000. Knickerbocker thought it a steal: ‘They just sell the top quality,’ he told the New York Times, ‘whatever you buy at Costco, whether it’s a washing-machine or a vacuum cleaner. I just thought, if it’s a Picasso, you can’t go wrong.’

"But it may have been a steal too far. The drawing had been verified by an art appraiser in Florida, and it came with a certificate of authenticity signed by Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso. When the Times contacted her, however, Picasso’s daughter promptly denounced the certificate as a forgery. She explained to the paper that a real certificate was marked with one or more of her fingerprints and then embossed with her seal. Here there were errors of French, and the handwriting wasn’t hers. Yet the buyer seemed cheerfully undeterred: ‘Seeing as she signed a lot of those things, who knows how many years ago,’ he told the newspaper, ‘I’m not surprised if she’s going to say that it’s fake unless she has it in front of her.’ In this delicious transference, from the authenticity of the drawing to the authenticity of the authenticator, why shouldn’t the final verdict lie with the buyer, who in a Stanley Fishy way has simply asserted his right to authenticate?"

I previously mentioned the case of the Costco Picasso here.

UPDATE: Somewhat related piece in The Financial Times here.