A Question of Ethics: Keeping Afloat in a Sea of Misconduct: In Light of Recent Issues of Impropriety in the Art Industry, Artists, Art Dealers and Publishers Should Take Steps to Preserve Their Integrity. (Special Report)

Article excerpt

Ethics is the "critical issue in the credibility of any industry," said John Doe, president of Digital Pulse Inc. and the Giclee Printers Association. Yet the art world's reputation has taken a bit of a beating recently. Two of its largest commercial entities, Sotheby's and Christie's, were found guilty of price fixing, and the former Chairman of Sotheby's has been sentenced to three years in Federal prison. If such a worthy art veteran as Alfred Taubman could succumb to such petty urges, what hope is there for the rest of us? Indeed, at every stage of a work's journey from the artist's hands to the collector's wall, there is an opportunity for misconduct.

Let us start with the artist. Despite the image of the typical painter as a starving bohemian enduring poverty in an attic, a few have been known to behave venally. For example, Jack Appelman of Applejack Art Partners points to what he calls the "Dali situation." Not only did Salvador Dali sign blank sheets of paper, but he also signed editions that were numbered so as to be intentionally misleading. Given a particular piece, "Diamond Head," for example, there would be 160 numbered as part of an American Edition, 125 as part of a Museum Edition and 125 as proofs. All of the images were evidently identical, and the "multiple editioning" was simply a ploy to keep the numbers relatively low on all of the pieces in circulation. Otherwise, each would have to have been numbered from a total edition of 410. According to art dealer Susan Cloninger, of G. J. Cloninger & Co., there is a well-known artist who currently practices a similar technique. He evidently releases large-scale limited editions with both Arabic numerals and Roman numerals and, as well, markets both European and domestic editions. Furthermore, according to Appelman, this selfsame artist has his works signed with a mechanical pen. Why would he so debase himself? According to Cloninger, "he is happy with the huge check."

Publisher Problems

Despite this, Appelman selflessly declares that "artists are not the problem, publishers are." He said that 15 to 16 states have passed laws governing the marketing of limited-edition prints and that "most publishers are currently in violation and don't know it." That is why he has helped found the Art Publishers Association. "We want to comply voluntarily, not be forced to by an Attorney General."

The crux of the matter is the full disclosure of the nature of a print, and this has been codified in the APA's draft Certificate of Authenticity (C. of A). A member publisher would have to admit on the C. of A. if, for example, a work had either been mechanically signed or simultaneously released in a number of identical editions.

What other behavior is it intended to prevent? According to Appelman, some publishers have been known to release a limited-edition print and then follow it later with a poster edition of the same image. To skirt the issue of this seemingly unethical re-release of a limited-edition image, the poster might have been made fractionally smaller in size. Although this might not be illegal, it "takes all the integrity out of the product; it cheapens it," said Appelman. By detailing the history of an image, the APA C. of A. would discourage such chicanery.

The certificate would also list all of the information necessary to prevent misrepresentation of the media used to create a work. It would force a publisher to reveal even the composition of the materials used to create the piece. In the past, some posters were printed using impermanent inks with the intent of creating a piece which was, according to Appelman, "designed to fade in a couple of years." Upon review of an APA C. of A., what buyer would willingly purchase a poster that would self-destruct in two years?

By insisting on the revelation of such information, the APA hopes to keep its members out of the crosshairs of state prosecutors. …