Selling counterfeit goods is not a new phenomenon. But since it is very profitable, it is gaining traction. Art forgery started a long time ago. The amount and financial losses due to fraud in this market can be compared with arms and drug trafficking. Collectors and galleries have the same chance to stumble across forgery as ordinary buyers who have decided to order a painting on the Internet. The virtual market offers reproductions and copies of all artists, especially those, whose paintings are selling well and whose names are big. Less observant buyers will be satisfied with the purchase, more observant buyers will try to get money back after examining the purchase. Lawyers say that the problem lies in the relationship between the buyer and the seller, which is not legally recognized. Given the fact that most purchases on the Internet take place on Chinese websites, you cannot make claims, as well as return the money.
For 20 years, Dmitry tackles counterfeiting of his father’s paintings, who is an internationally known impressionist and founder of the palette knife painting technique – Leonid Afremov. Now, after the death of the artist, his family runs a studio that makes copies of thousands of paintings by the impressionist. Dmitry Afremov told us about the quality of created works, the reputation, and fighting against forgery.
”Dmitry, when the studio, which produces copies of Leonid Afremov’s paintings, started working, did you expect to face the problem of art forgery?”
”The problem of art forgery occurred long before the studio: when dad had just started painting, they were already making forgeries in China. We were very surprised by that. We went online around the year 2000, and at the end of it, forgeries were already being made.”
”Reproduction, duplicate, replica – do customers understand the meaning of these words correctly and what are the questions that are raised the most often?”
”That’s a good question. The main problem is that the customer does not always read about what he is buying. The sale is an impulse, and I have to explain after the sale that for $100 it is impossible to buy the original, that it will be a copy or an author’s replica.”
”Leonid Afremov is a contemporary artist of the first rank. Actually, this is why his paintings are being forged. How often do you receive claims from buyers concerning poor quality of a copy, and why, whilst not buying from you, the owner of claimed painting reaches out to you?”
”Quite often we receive claims from customers that the painting is of poor quality. For example, when you buy on platforms such as Wish, eBay, you have to be prepared for many fakes. I have a whole department that looks for fakes on the internet and submits a so-called ”report”. People often do not understand, they google ”Afremov”, find the first thing that comes up – which is an ad, – click on it, buy for a cheap price and receive a fake. And then, unfortunately, they turn to us. We cannot help them, we did not sell it to them. Obviously, the fake will be of terrible quality, because those who make them, have never learned from Leonid Afremov.”
”When we talk about a copy of a painting, how much does it cost if it is produced by your studio and if it is produced by the platforms on the Internet that pass it off as yours? Twice the price, five times the price, or more?”
”Unfortunately, everyone offers fake art. Any website where you can start an online store and sell paintings or any other product, they all suffer from forgeries. But what’s good is that if we find them in time, the website blocks them, because eBay and Amazon care a lot about their reputation. The problem is that we cannot keep track of everything; these platforms are huge. The most interesting thing is that the price difference between our copies and fake copies is very small. Sometimes we sell even cheaper than some fakes. Because fakes are one-day websites, they are designed to make fast money and close. They don’t pursuit anything else.”
”Is there a penalty for making illegal copies?”
”It’s a complicated question. A website that injures any copyrights (if we are talking about copyright) can be closed down due to violation of the Copyright Law. They do not sign these paintings under the name of Leonid Afremov; they just sell it as a copy. If they were to sign this as Leonid Afremov’s painting, then yes, it would be a forged painting.”
”What kind of documents does your studio provide for confirmation? How can a buyer be sure that he isn’t on another clone site that specializes in forgeries?”
”Of course, we provide a document, a certificate of authenticity. The artist who painted a copy signs the painting in the front and in the back by our trademark. If it is my father’s painting, then everything is simple: it has a signature ”Leonid Afremov” in the front, ”Leonid Afremov” in the back, the year, and a certificate of authenticity.”
”How to fight against the trade of forged paintings? In your opinion, is there a universal way?”
”It’s almost impossible to fight against something on the Internet. But if people use their heads and read the description of the paintings and just understand where they are being sold, and from whom they can and cannot be bought, it will become much easier. On our website, for example, if it is a copy, it says that it is a copy and who made it. All the information is provided. We have been working for over 20 years selling online, we have the same PayPal account, we have the same data. We have not changed the website, we have not changed anything. i.e. we work strictly according to the law, and what we offer to people fully corresponds to the description.”
”Have you seen the fakes that the scammers passed off as your studio’s work? What does give those fakes away? What are their main differences from the paintings of Leonid Afremov’s students?”
”Paintings made by my father are impossible to forge. He puts his soul into them. Studio copies are obviously different. But our students are people with higher education in art, at least 15-20 years of work experience as professional artists, they all know how to use a palette knife. A palette knife is a very complex tool. Those who make fakes try to make it quick, they lack the skills to work with a palette knife, and they have much fewer details. This is very important. I mean, fakes have bad quality. But they all show paintings taken from our website as an example. Therefore, a person only finds out about that when they receive a fake. And then there is the problem of returning money because the website disappears.”
”Do you plan to increase the cost of paintings? What is the art market dictating right now?”
”The paintings that my father painted are unique originals, of course, the price has already increased. On the ”recreation copies” of paintings that Leonid Afremov made, and they are signed by him, the price is the same. When these paintings are sold out, we will just remove them from the site. I am not interested in what the market dictates, we work outside the market. We sell paintings for interior decoration. That is, at the moment we have no competitors because we give people a real oil painting on canvas, created by a real person for very little money. And about the art market… If I had followed the art market prices, I would have had to raise all prices on the same day ten times, close the studio, leave there a few hundred paintings that dad painted, and wait until the good patron comes and buys them. That’s obviously not the way we work.”
”In your opinion, is investing in art a good choice?”
”It is very difficult to say whether it is a good investment or a bad one. An investment in art is more like patronage. That is if you support an artist, then, as they say, an artist will say ”thank you”. And when in many, many years your grandchildren will inherit this painting, perhaps then it will be very expensive. Or maybe not. Any investment is a risk. Of course, buying paintings from old masters makes sense, they have a stable price. In contemporary art, it is difficult to say what the best way to invest is. A painting should please the eye. If you like it, you want to keep it at home, it is your investment in home decoration. And as of selling it later at a more expensive or cheaper rate, I highly doubt that you can know for sure. Now, for example, during the coronavirus period, many people sell expensive paintings three times cheaper. I even buy my father’s paintings from people who just want to sell them, they need money. We bought from some galleries entire collections of paintings by Leonid Afremov because those galleries cannot pay their rent. They sold them for a very cheap price.”
P.S. According to artsy.net, oil painting is a very successful business in China. Around 60% of the world’s oil paintings are made in Shenzhen. ”Here, 5000 artists redraw anything – from classical paintings to impressionism and abstractionism,” says Zhang Jinshuan, the head of the Shenzhen company GWJB Art, which specializes in reproductions of paintings.
And according to the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in 2013-2016 the annual circulation of forged art on the ”black” market was $6-8 billion. This figure includes not only the value of works stolen from museums and galleries but also smuggling from countries and regions with the turbulent political situation, affected by military conflicts and revolutions. It also includes the circulation of paintings and other valuables that are subject to restitution laws and therefore do not go to legal trading floors.
Interview given by the CEO Afremov.com David Afremov