17-07-2013: Fake African Art Gang Dismantled in Paris

Een artikel van de African Art Club:

Fake African Art Gang Dismantled in Paris

Dear friend,

Collecting genuine African art can frequently be a demanding task, particularly when one realizes that 90% of the African art on the market is made for decorative purposes.

In Paris at Saint Germain des Prés, the French police recently dismantled one of the largest ever networks of the selling of fake African art. Fake objects that had been artificially aged to make them look antique were being sold for huge amounts of money.

The gang targeted tourists and art lovers, approaching them as they left chic art galleries on the Rive Gauche in central Paris. The victims must have been strongly disappointed upon learning that the objects they bought sometimes for hundreds of thousands of Euros were in fact touristy “airport art.”

It took one year of investigation by the police centering in the art-gallery neighborhood and streets surrounding the rue des Beaux Arts where 22 people were arrested for producing and selling these fake works. The thieves were well- organized, typically approaching a prospective buyer when the individual was coming out of one of the galleries at Saint Germain des Prés, inviting the client to view important objects for sale. The crooks indicated they were wholesalers for the bona fide galleries, and offered articles claimed as authentic at prices considerably lower than the ones in the galleries. Often these fake objects were offered with forged documents attesting to the items’ authenticity from such bona fide international organizations as UNESCO. Many of the documents were artificially aged and featured counterfeit stamps and signatures.

But the police explained that all these objects where clearly contemporary creations often made in hidden ateliers around Paris or recently imported from Africa. The police discovered that the objects where falsely patinated with natural materials presumed indigenous to genuine African works.

The producing and successful selling of fake objects is occurring not only in Paris but also in any number of major cities worldwide, including Brussels and New York, along with marketing through Ebay and Facebook. All of this points to the importance of heightened awareness on the part of those interested in genuine African art.


Once the victims showed interest, they were given a phone number to make an appointment and proceed with the sale. To further convince the buyers, the sellers of these fake objects claimed that other individuals and even dealers and museums were interested in these objects but were hampered by certain delays, thus prompting the potential buyer to move quickly to ensure getting possession of the items.

All transactions were to be paid with cash, which of course makes it difficult to trace and establish these kinds of sales as having occurred. For this and other reasons, it required more than a year of surveillance to determine how these crooks were organized before being able to dismantle their modus operandi.

For reputable galleries, the preponderance of faked objects offered and sold in this manner is not a recent problem. One established dealer noted that “It started already more than 10 years ago, and I was always seeing them waiting for people when they left our galleries. I registered complaints several times at the Commissariat de Police but was told the officials could do nothing unless they had concrete documentation that such a sale had occurred.”

Bernard Dulon, a well-known local gallery owner and tribal art specialist, said he was scandalized by the racism revealed by the scam. The objects were sold by Africans to white Westerners and relied on people believing that Africans couldn’t possibly know anything about art and that gallery owners were necessarily overcharging when they bought from the Africans, he claimed.

Dulon noted that the copies, moreover, were laughable.

The resultant fact remains that one should never buy something under pressure, and that it’s best to always ask for a second opinion from a well-known dealer, a disinterested collector with a sterling reputation, or a museum curator before proceeding with a purchase. And if one proceeds with any kind of purchase, one should have concrete and reputable proof of payment.


http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20130614-paris-police-break-fake-african-art-gang, and personal investigations and experience.