ArtiFact or ArtiFake? – The problem of forgeries in Mesoamerican Art
We are most grateful to Dr. Karen Olsen Bruhns and Dr. Nancy L. Kelker for this eye-opening article on the widespread problem of faked pre-Columbian objects in major museums around the world. Dr. Bruhns is Director of the Cihuatán/Las Marías Archaeological Project for the Fundación Nacional de Arqueología de El Salvador (FUNDAR). Dr. Kelker is Professor of Art History at Middle Tennessee State University. In 2009 they co-authored Faking Ancient Mesoamerica.
|Pic 1: ‘Faking Ancient Mesoamerica’ by Kelker and Bruhns (Click on image to enlarge)|
Worldwide art and antiquities forgery is big business, yet despite periodic exposés of the more dramatic forgery rings such as that of the Bolton forgers or of individual high ticket fakes, such as the Chicago Art Institute’s faux Gauguin faun, the forgery business continues unabated. It will continue to do so just as long as there are covetous collectors who believe themselves incapable of being fooled or who have been convinced by their dealers that forgery isn’t a problem. This is especially true if the desired item has acquired a provenance dating prior to the magical year of 1970, before which, for some daft reason (pecuniary?) the art-dealing world claims forgeries were few and far between.
In the New World this assumption is especially problematic, as the earliest Precolumbian fakes and near-fakes known date back to the period of the Spanish Conquest. The dealing and collection world’s rosy view of the forgery problem is that only about 40% of any collection is potentially fraudulent. Based on our own observations and analysis of museum collection donations to which we have had access, as well as auction listings, we estimate that at this moment, a conservative estimate of the percentage of forgeries on sale or bought (and ultimately donated) within, say, the past 30 to 50 years, is about 85% and growing exponentially. Entire auctions at prestigious houses and galleries and museum exhibitions often push the 100% forgery mark.