Now What? The art of learning what you might have.
I am not plugged into the newest generation of websites that offer to identify and authenticate an object from photos for a relatively small fee. Photography offers a relatively limited amount of information. About 20 years ago old master departments would work from rather large photographic color transparent films. Scholars could identify whether or not a piece had the right attributes for the assumed artist. Authentication was almost always done in person.
Now we enter the age of litigation. For better or worse scholars are generally unwilling to offer opinions if a piece is involved in a commercial transaction. Not long ago I handled a signed Clodion terra cotta. The acknowledged expert had retired. She was the curator of the Frick in New York. In the space of her career Clodion had become exceptionally valuable and the amount of reproduction material, not unheard of during his lifetime had become a small mountain. Dealers simply where not going to let the unsophisticated wealthy leave empty handed.
Current standards regarding eroticism are a good deal further along than Clodion’s works that generally featured cavorting nymphs and satyrs. In trying to get an authentication for this work one comment came up a few times. The work was too good or something like too much effort had been spent to make the sculpture appear real. The eroticism in these pieces was genuine but subtle enough for polite society. The statues filled a console or commode nicely and where pleasing from many directions.
A year was spent trying to track down the expert unsuccessfully. Eventually a curator who was her friend did some work on my behalf. I was told a number of things including the location of similar examples. One had been carbon dated to a few decades beyond the artist’s lifetime. The work was most probably by one of Clodion’s best students. Of course nameless. At this point I had the benefit of a well placed contact in Paris. I had gotten about as far as possible. Nothing in writing except by me. A beautiful statue that had been sitting on Nob Hill for 80 years and a mystery.
The current nonsense. About 25 years ago a local expert pronounced a beautiful painting a 200 year old copy. Experts flew in from Tokyo, Rome, England and New York. All certain that a mistake had been made and that they might profit handsomely. The painting most probably was 1100 years old and a rare beauty.
It was quite possibly the first time such fine gentlemen had been brought together. I do not believe shows for this material existed yet. This was a contest of wallets and ego’s. The painting admitedly could be bought for much less on the open market. The hammer was a stunning 2.5 million dollars. The selling expert was happy to be an idiot for 2.5 million and this strategy rarely varied going forward. Describe the object as dross and watch it fly or not.
So with in this line of thought the statue would be offered as a later variant of a couple of known works from an old San Francisco Collection with and estimate of 3 to 5k. It either takes off or crashes. Of course nobody is the wiser.
The Warhol foundation closed. Most auction houses will not guarantee the work of non living artists. Most foundations will not answer the phone fearing legal entanglements one way or the other. At this point some of my worst experiences involve very famous houses along with some of my best.
You might have noticed an avalanche of Basquiat paintings or the seemingly endless supply from Picasso’s Vollard suite. My best advice is to find the smartest person you can to work with and pay them well. Don’t bother trying to outsmart the market until you learn it pretty well. I have a hard time imagining a better way to get your feet wet than to work with a knowledgeable dealer. Happy Hunting