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IS THEY IS, OR IS THEY AIN’T?


AUTHENTICATING DALI ARTWORKS, Part one

While writing about art authentication for my book Artful Dodgers in a cottage overlooking Culdaff Bay in Donegal, Ireland, it occurs to me that it is a useful topic to address in reference to artworks attributed to Salvador Dalí. After all, that’s who I am—the Dalí Expert—and so I do a lot of that. It’s also worth taking a look at the several other sources of “authentication” for Dalí artworks. Some of them are not what and who they say they are.

The first thing to understand about art authentication, however, is that The only person who can authenticate an artwork is the person who created it. If that person is not available (dead, in an asylum, or suffering from dementia) then all you can hope for is to get the best opinions from the best people available. The operable word is “opinion”.

The “best people available” means those who are accepted as experts in the artist’s work through their relationship with the artist (family or collaborator), their authorship of a reliable catalog, scholarship or extensive experience examining the artist’s work and doing research. There are two other critical factors: connoisseurship and the credibility that comes with being independent and disinterested. In other words, they must not have any conceivable way of materially benefiting from the opinion they give.

When the art of Salvador Dalí is the topic, authenticity becomes even more important than it would normally be. Why? Because there are probably more fakes attributed to Dalí than to almost any other artist of any era. After all, he was a sick recluse (or prisoner) for the last nine years of his life and many people proceeded to produce fakes and sell then as genuine with the assurance that the artist would die on Thursday and the values would shoot up. This was especially true of editions (usually 1,000) of prints which were sold with forged signatures—many thousands of them.

So let’s look at the subject of the fake prints first. Since the topic is complex and unraveling it represents the work I’ve done over almost three decades, this must be a somewhat simplified telling of the tale.

Actually I was very fortunate. I benefited from my opportunities to serve as the expert for a long list of federal and state law enforcement and regulatory agencies because each criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit brought me endless opportunities to examine good prints and forgeries of every type as well as piles of files and information. For example, when the Federal Trade Commission went after Pierre Marcand of Magui Publishing, there was a particularly rich windfall.

Pierre lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills where he hosted lots of out-of-work actors and actresses who paid their rent by hand-coloring the fake prints he produced on his own presses. At one point he decided he needed a larger mansion. Unfortunately for him, it would not be available for his occupancy until after he was committed to vacating the old one. Consequently he had to move to a hotel for four months and put all of his belongings in storage. He called Beverly Hills Storage and they sent over several trucks and packers.

Within an hour of the arrival of the loaded trucks at the warehouse, everything Pierre owned (except what he had at the hotel) was under Federal Court order and I was on my way from my home in Colorado. For the next couple of weeks I had access to all of Pierre’s stuff. I ignored the personal items, but was elated to have his printing plates and presses, 1,000 sheets of blank paper with (forged) Dalí signatures, 3,000 fake prints and some of the drawings and transparencies used to create the fakes.

Using my art detective techniques, I collected all of the clues the material offered that I was later able to use in Federal Court to prove the prints fakes and the signatures forgeries. Such an opportunity added tremendously to my knowledge and understanding of the activities of the crooks. No one else has had access to this type of material, and I did in case after case.

This is the sort of experience that has permitted me to develop the information, understanding and connoisseurship that makes me the expert I am today. Having examined 53,000 prints attributed to Salvador Dalí, I have more hands-on experience than anyone else. Having actually done the various printmaking techniques myself I am in a unique position and it has added a great deal to my ability not only to determine authenticity, but also to explain it to juries and judges.

I’ll share many more adventures and experiences in future blogs.