(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 8/26.)
If you’ve been following news of the art world in recent months you may have come across two intriguing front page stories. In one, actor Alec Baldwin accused a major New York gallery owner of selling him a canvas by painter Ross Bleckner that was a more recent version of the original painting he had requested. In another (a case that played out in a Chicago courtroom), a man who wanted to sell an early painting by Scottish artist Peter Doig he believed to be worth $10 million, was told it was not a work by Doig at all.
Whether being purchased or sold by an individual or a museum, matters of authenticity and provenance (the trail of ownership attached to a work of art) have long been of crucial importance. Forgeries and copies are as old as the making of art itself, and ownership (marred by everything from wartime looting to ordinary theft), can be dubious. But art is now seen as a major investment – a high-priced commodity – as much as a thing of beauty, wonderment, mystery or delight. And egos are heavily involved in its vetting and acquisition.