Bonfire of the Vanities: Blackman and Dickerson artworks determined to be fake and ordered destroyed

1 06 2010

Street Scene with Schoolgirl, supposedly by Charles Blackman.A small but portentous victory for artists and art buyers alike today, with the ruling of Justice Peter Vickery that three works of art by Charles Blackman and Robert Dickerson are forgeries and must be destroyed. The artworks, one of which is illustrated at left, were sold by art dealer, Peter Gant, although the court found that Gant did not know the works were fakes or that he had acted improperly. The case was brought against Gant by Dickerson and Blackman in the Victorian Supreme Court, their lawyers claiming that the fake artworks damaged the artists’ reputations by “‘occasioning uncertainty in the market and damage to the financial value of the artistic works owned by each plaintiff.” Gant has spoken in the past about how easy it is for a dealer to be caught out by a dodgy artwork – in a 1999 Four Corners program, Rogue’s Gallery, (as an aside, the transcript makes fascinating reading) in response to the question “You’ve been caught with duds?”, Gant responded “Oh yeah, I don’t know any dealers that haven’t.” A trap for young players, it would seem.

This has major implications for the market as it gives great weight to the value of connoisseurship when determining whether or not a work of art is authentic. It also highlights something I’ve been banging on about for a while, and that is that the most successful forgeries are those that appear in the lower half of the art market. To attempt to fake a significant painting is difficult – catalogues and records from exhibitions during an artist’s lifetime can be reasonably easily accessed to determine whether or not a major work is authentic, and artists’ records and personal recollections will be fairly reliable when it comes to ‘hero’ artworks. But when it comes to minor pieces – such as the works soon to be incinerated – it’s another matter altogether. Two of the Blackman fakes were sold to a buyer for $13,500 – no small amount in a general sense, but small change in the art market. Sales at this level rarely attract the level of scrutiny dedicated to sales at the top end of the market.

Prepare for some pretty significant fall-out.