Lonely Planet Writer

Why is this Argentinian pop-up art exhibition of Latin American masterpieces full of fakes?

A pop-up exhibition of Latin American masterpieces in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires has been revealed to consist entirely of forgeries – by the exhibition organisers themselves. The unusual display is being hosted by the Argentinian Ministry of Finance as a novel way of educating the public about the international trade in forged collectible art.

A woman looks at a forged painting by Argentina's artist Benito Quinquela Martin (C) exhibited at the Finance Ministry in Buenos Aires on April 26, 2016.
A woman looks at a forged painting by Argentina’s artist Benito Quinquela Martin (C) exhibited at the Finance Ministry in Buenos Aires on April 26, 2016. Image by EIEITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images

The forty paintings on display at the Palacio de Hacienda are part of a hoard of some 240 forgeries seized in a cross-border raid on a single organised gang of art forgers by the transnational police agency Interpol. They come with their very own certificates of authenticity, also forgeries. The artists whose works and signature styles have been copied include Benito Quinquela Martín, Antonio Berni and Antonio Seguí. The quality of the forgeries ranges from amateurish to highly professional – one of the canvases has even been manipulated so that it appears to be moth-eaten.

The curator of the show, Mario Naranjo, believes the value of the paintings to be around US$600,000 – a drop in the ocean of the international trade in art forgeries. “This kind of crime makes millions of dollars,” he is quoted as saying in a report by Agence France-Presse. “It is considered the biggest racket in the world after arms and drug-trafficking.”

Art forgery is a billion dollar racket. Opinions vary wildly on how much of the world art market (total estimated value in 2013: US$66 billion) is fake. In 2014, Dublin art dealer Oliver Sears estimated the figure at about 2%, while Switzerland’s Fine Art Expert Institute put it at around 50%.

The exhibition runs until the end of the week, at which point the paintings will be used as evidence in court proceedings before they’re destroyed.