German Police Crack Down On Booming Online Market for Dada Forgeries

GERMANY
This collage purportedly by Raoul Hausmann is offered on eBay for only €1,200. Photo: eBay via Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Henri Neuendorf, Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The art market is currently flooded by low-cost fakes bringing big revenues for criminal gangs. Forgers systematically target non-experts by offering works by popular artists in easily-copied genres, such as Dada, for bargain prices.

In Germany, several such forgeries are systematically placed into online auctions. And while few find their way into reputable auction houses, the systems of forgery detection in place at major houses means that the majority of fakes end up on eBay.

According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, price points for these artworks are deliberately kept low to entice speculators. Forgers lure gullible eBay customers who may be hoping that the sellers don't know the true value of what they're offering.

A forged collage claimed to be by Hannah Höch. Experts at Berlinische Galerie determined it to be a fake. Photo: Berlinische Galerie Archiv

A forged collage claimed to be by Hannah Höch. Experts at Berlinische Galerie determined it to be a fake. Photo: Berlinische Galerie Archiv

Most of these cases can't be prosecuted because sellers are careful never to make explicit attributions, although they insinuate value.

Ralf Burmeister, an art historian and archivist at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Art has become an investment product, like automobiles and real estate."

Inexperienced buyers are tempted to dabble in the art market hoping to strike gold. Media focus on stories of sudden and unexpected riches gained from a lucky art purchase means that more and more people are buying art in the lower price range in hopes to emulate such sensational success stories.

German police are investigating the growing number of suspected fakes on the market. Photo: Ole Spata/DPA via Tagesspiegel

German police are investigating the growing number of suspected fakes on the market. Photo: Ole Spata/DPA via Tagesspiegel

Dada collages are especially susceptible to forgery. A couple of magazine or newspaper clippings from the right era, a bit of glue, and a statement against the political elite—the recipe is easy to follow.

The total number of Dada forgeries on the market is unclear. It is also unclear whether individual crooks are putting out fakes, or whether it's the workings of an organized criminal enterprise.

Whereas Burmeister denies the existence of a forgery ring, an unnamed Berlin-based gallerist is certain that organized criminals are behind the growing number of fakes. The LKA, German federal criminal police, have confirmed that it is investigating.

[Image caption: This collage purportedly by Raoul Hausmann is offered on eBay for only €1,200. Photo: eBay via Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung]