Sculpture knock-offs prove plague of art world

Mon Dec 31, 2012 1:37pm EST
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By Daniel Grant

AMHERST, Massachusetts (Reuters) - An epidemic of sculpture knock-offs is plaguing the art world, and just like the sale and production of counterfeit designer handbags and shoes, law enforcement is having a difficult time keeping up.

Statues, wildlife figures and, in one case, a copy of Jasper Johns' 1960 metallic collage "Flag," are turning up for sale in stores, garden centers and other outlets without the approval of the artists who originally created them, and sometimes at top-end prices.

American sculptors say they are losing income and spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses trying to track down and stop the knock-offs, often with little success. Many of the forgeries come from foundries in Asia, while advances in digital scanning and photography are making copycat sculptures even easier to create.

Art crime police say it is difficult to estimate the scale of the trade in fakes.

"There is a significant problem of knock-offs in all areas of the art world," Robert K. Wittman, retired founder of the FBI's Art Crime Team, told Reuters.

He cited an Interpol statistic of $6 billion in annual art crimes around the world, of which the majority are forgeries. Unauthorized sculpture castings are classified by the FBI and Interpol as forgeries.

Eli Hopkins, business manager for his father, Colorado-based wildlife sculptor Mark Hopkins, said he found fiberglass copies of his father's bronzes in a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store selling for one-tenth the price of the originals.

"I used to get catalogs of decorations just to look for copycats, but I just stopped after a while," Hopkins told Reuters. "I got too stressed out finding things and then finding out that I couldn't do anything to stop it."   Continued...