Published: December 21, 2004
If you have a taste for the nuts and bolts of art attribution and legal issues surrounding authentication of art, search no farther. Ronald Spencer has put together a series of excellent essays written by leaders in the field and true connoisseurs. Spencer takes a look at this elephant of a topic from many different points of view and will leave the reader vastly more knowledgeable. Spenser is an a counselor at Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP of New York City. His book dots the I’s and crosses the T’s as much as is possible.
This is an essential book for attorneys involved in the art business and a wakeup call for the industry to provide a forum in which an unbiased consensus can be made about art attributions by the scholars qualified to make them – without fear of retribution. Part I of the book is devoted to authentication and connoisseurship. Part II addresses authentication and the law.
Essayists include notables such as Francis V. O’Connor, a leading expert on Jackson Pollock, an artist forgers mistakenly believe is easy to fake; Peter Sutton, director of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich Conn., and an expert on Northern Baroque art who discusses the Rembrandt Project; Max J. Friedlander (1867-1958) a leading proponent of connoisseurship who wrote, “After being unmasked every forgery is a useless, hybrid and miserable thing.”
John Tancock, senior vice president in the Impressionist and Modern art department at Sotheby’s New York, discusses issues of authenticity in the auction house; Michael Find-lay, director at Acquavella Galleries, New York City, discusses the role of the catalogue raisonné; how the catalogue raisonné affects the art market is the topic of Peter Kraus, founder of Ursus Books; Noel Annesley, deputy chairman of Christie’s, writes about discoveries and reattributions of Old Masters.
Sharon Flescher, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research, talks about IFAR’s important role in authenticating art; Rustin S. Levenson discusses the uses and limits of scientific testing in the authentication process and in another chapter he discusses the preservation and authenticity of contemporary art.
Spencer interviews Eugene Victor Thaw, a retired art dealer, collector, president of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and an honorary trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, and a trustee of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Thaw addresses the generational movement of art historical scholarship and connoisseurship and how the market eventually self-corrects misattributions.
An interview with Samuel Sachs II, former director of The Frick Collection, New York City, and the Detroit Institute of Arts and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, brings up the issue of masterpieces without a master, that is, works of consummate quality that remain unattributed.
In Part II, Theodore E. Stebbins Jr, former John Moors Cabot Curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and now the curator of American art at Harvard University Museums, discusses rendering expert opinions; Spencer covers legal liability for art attributions, the pitfalls of authentication in court, and a precedent set in the year 2000 protecting expert opinion. Van Kirk Reeves, a French lawyer, writes about the sometimes vexing droit moral and other issues of authenticity under French law.
An unequivocal endorsement of The Expert versus the Object is in order. The industry needs to take the reins of this issue of attribution because the legal process does not always do a good job of it. Every art museum director, curator, appraiser, art auctioneer, gallerist and connoisseur should read this book. Be warned: it will take a while to digest all of the issues that Spencer raises.
The Expert versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts, edited by Ronald D. Spencer, Oxford University Press, Inc, 198 Madison Avenue, New York NY 10016; 2004, 241 pages, hardcover, $35.
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