ONLY ON KOLD: The Art of Deception - Tucson News Now

ONLY ON KOLD: The Art of Deception

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Can you tell the difference between a million-dollar piece of art and a knockoff?

It’s tougher than you think.

Years ago, the University of Arizona Art Museum had five particular pieces of art on display in the museum.

The pieces were attributed to some well-known artists -- Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Edgar Degas.

The art came to the school as part of a 200-piece collection donated by Baltimore businessman Edward Gallagher.

The museum said Gallagher donated them in the 1950s as a memorial for his son, who died at in a car crash at the age of 13.

Gallagher allegedly spent thousands of dollars collecting the art.

“At the time he was purchasing this, art was not reaching into millions of dollars," said Olivia Miller, curator University of Arizona Art Museum. "That came along later."

The pieces, three paintings and two sculptures, were on display for at least 10 years.

Then in the 1970s, someone took a closer look at them.

The curator at the time thought something was wrong with the Kandinsky painting titled “At Rest.”

"After looking at so many art works one begins to understand an artist's style, brush strokes and density, kind of like their finger print," Miller said.

The museum looked at the provenance, or history, of the five art pieces.

That’s when they discovered a Swiss corporation’s story about the art was off and found out the pieces were forgeries.

“It’s a violation. It’s a tragic situation and it feels as if someone has stolen your car,” Miller said.

The art was taken down and never displayed again as real works of art. They're now used as a teaching tool for students in the U of A art program.

The FBI said selling fake or stolen art is a multimillion-dollar-a-year problem.

The FBI has an art theft team, established in 2004, and 16 investigators around the country. Since the group formed, they've recovered over 850 art pieces worth more than $134 million.

Laura Patten, an FBI art crime expert, said most victims don’t know they’ve been conned until years after purchase.

It's usually discovered when a piece is up for sale or needs to be appraised for insurance purposes.

The FBI said if you’re planning to buy a piece of art, make sure you do your homework. Don’t just look at the physical attributes of the piece. Know the history and look for any red flags.

There are several websites that the FBI suggested that consumers can look at. Click the links below for more information.
FBI: National Stolen Art File

The Art Loss Register
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