Alert: Art Fraud and Fakes on ebay

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Update March 21, 2008: In addition to fraud problems, due to recent changes in eBay policies, all bidder identities are now hidden on all auction items. In other words, it's impossible for you to see who you're bidding against. Er... wait. I mean it's impossible for honest bidders to detect shill bidders who may be illegally bidding against them. So say you see 25 bids on a piece of art, you think to yourself, "Oh baby-- this one looks good," and you place a bid. This could be nothing more than you (the sucker) and six confederates working together to take you to the cleaners. You'll never know. Remember-- for all but the most experienced collectors, eBay remains just as dangerous a place to buy art as ever.

Update May 11, 2005: Sellers who sell fake art on internet auction site eBay are now using one-sentence item descriptions to describe their art in addition to the more traditional long complicated convoluted ones. These descriptions may be as simple as "Oil painting on canvas by John Doe, 32 by 32 inches, signed, good condition." Many of these auctions are also "Private," meaning that bidders identities are hidden-- you have no idea who's bidding against you. (Note: A private art auction with a one-sentence item description does not automatically mean the art is fake or problematic, but be careful anyway).

No matter where a work of art is for sale or how it's described, always require PROOF from the seller that it's by the artist the seller says it's by. If a seller cannot provide definitive proof that the art is by the artist as stated in the item description, DO NOT BID ON THE ART. If you are not sure what "definitive proof" is or how to determine whether a work of art is genuine, read Art Provenance, What It Is and How to Verify It.

On second thought, if you're reading this warning and thinking you'd better check out the provenance article before you bid, forget about buying art at online auctions or at any other buyer-beware circumstance, for that matter, including bricks-and-mortar auctions, fixed-price websites you're not familiar with, estate sales, garage sales, flea markets, and so on. Either buy from reputable dealers, hire a consultant to evaluate art you like BEFORE YOU BUY IT, or don't buy at all.

I know, I know... buying from qualified established dealers is expensive. You'd rather sneak a sleeper out from under a rock somewhere and laugh all the way to the bank about what a smarty you are. Well, maybe you'd better check out the chapter "What Good Are Art Dealers?" in The Art of Buying Art while you're at it. Bargain-hunt before you know what you're doing and you'll regret it, believe me. And remember-- there's a huge difference between "I think I know what I'm doing" and "I know what I'm doing."

WARNING: eBay is an exceptionally risky place to buy original art by famous artists. They do not actively police their auction offerings, but rather depend on emails from dealers, collectors, experts, buyers, and potential buyers to notify them of problems relating to particular works of art. This is not nearly enough to prevent problem sellers from flourishing on eBay. Any seller can describe any work of art in any manner that he or she chooses, and as long as no one complains, that art sells to the highest bidder. To repeat-- eBay and similar online auction sites are among the most dangerous places for uninformed or inexperienced collectors to buy original art.

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