In response to a flurry of stories about fakes on the Indian art market, Girish Shahane responds with this Quartz piece pointing out the ironies of expecting government regulation to work for the art market. Shahane is specifically concerned with Indian art but his comments could easily be applied anywhere in the world:
It is curious how Indians, who never tire of holding forth about the incompetence and corruption of government, seem always to conclude that the solution to any intractable problem lies in the setting up of a government committee. Those in the trade should be careful what they wish for, because, should the government actually create a authentication panel, it will almost certainly be a disaster. For example, we can expect demands for original works to be shipped to the Capital for inspection in a process that will take months, since committees constituted of authorities living in different regions of India can’t be expected to meet every week. At the end of it, there is no guarantee that forgeries will always be spotted, or that authentic works will always be certified as such, since these things often come down to a matter of opinion. And opinions differ, even among impartial experts.
In actual fact, Indian art requires less, not more, regulation. Expertise and transparency have been strangled by the Antiquities Act, which makes the owning and selling of antiquities difficult, their export illegal, and restricts trade in the work of a number of modern artists labeled national treasures, Rabindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose among them. While there is no silver bullet solution for the problem of forgeries, partial fixes emerge as a natural consequence of trade. Buyers develop relationships of trust with dealers. Certain individuals receive widespread recognition for their connoisseurship, and become established authenticators. Foundations publish catalogues raisonnés, which are comprehensive listings of all known works by artists. This last has never happened in India, partly because of the huge expense involved, partly because many collectors don’t wish to reveal the extent of their holdings, and partly because family members of dead artists, who often become the authenticators of choice, want to make the most of that privilege.