With just a little research on the market of fakes worldwide I have come across various differing views from art connoisseurs, scientists and investors on the damaging or in some case, irrelevant, effects of fake works of art. There is the rumor that there are several fake Rembrandt paintings worldwide, and that is not necessarily referring to the ones purchasable online for ten dollars. In Sri Lanka, if one is familiar with the local art scene and our masters of contemporary art, you may have come across a few rumors about fake paintings by George Keyt and Ivan Peries making their way around our little island. Sadly this is not a rumor that someone started to anger their archenemy, as is generally the case in our small town Colombo. As a gallerist and art dealer, I have come across various fakes and have been confronted with many issues that these fake works are causing on an international level. I do hope that this article will make you panic and run to your masterpiece, if you own one, and use the methods provided in this article to obtain the correct provenance before spending those hard earned millions on a painting. If however you were trying to find a way to spend the excess of money you already had in your bank account, don’t read on; just sit back, light up your cigar and enjoy the bliss of ignorance.
If you haven’t seen a replica of Van Gogh’s sunflowers somewhere in the world, then you shouldn’t even be reading the Art issue of this magazine. There are trillions of them. You know when you buy one for fifty dollars what you’re getting is not an investment, but a pretty work to decorate your wall and make you feel happy when you sip your morning cup. On the other hand can you tell the difference between a fake George Keyt, when the price tag on it is more than ten thousand dollars? I have been faced with this stressful question many a time and have opted out. It seems a well-known fact, I heard through the grapevine, that Keyt’s son used to produce replicas of his fathers work and sell them to collectors locally. I have heard from others, who are very familiar with the work of George Keyt, that they have come across fakes in peoples’ houses and did not have the heart to tell them the truth. I personally have had the unpleasant experience of viewing a whole series of fake Ivan Peries works, only to hastily return them to their owner. It has become a tricky scene, and there are so many works moving around in the local market that all one need do is take a step back and realize how unreal it is that there are always Peries works for sale.
During a meeting with Christies in London I questioned their lack of interest in our masters and urged them to include us in the Asian Art Auctions. This inclusion can only assist in the prominence of the Sri Lankan Contemporary Art Scene and take us one step forward in the art world. They were enthusiastic but stated their knowledge of the problem we face with lack of provenance; that is, the chronology of ownership. This is not an easy task, try asking the next person who shows you a piece by the 43 Group. If they can give you the history of where the piece came from, then get the value double checked by a gallery, or trusted art collector and buy it. If they can’t, run a mile. There are so many fakes moving around at the moment. One tends to assume that is an artist was prolific there are bound to be thousands of pieces available. Sadly, we seem to have increased the supply and it is damaging the demand. Like every problem, there is a solution to this one and it lies in the one free service we offer at a commercial gallery; that is to sit down with you and advice you on the best way to go about authenticating and valuing art. It needn’t be the Saskia Fernando Gallery, I would safely say that any of the three leading galleries locally are run by a team of people who have the right network to assist you in authenticating your art. Sadly expensive fake art does not provide the same joy as silicon on Pamela and it is time we all start getting a little more street smart.