Copyright © June 23, 2013 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner

All Rights Reserved

James Bond

One of the first books I read to become a Dürer collector was John Conklin’s “Art Crime,” and the FBI Manual on art crime, probably not standard fare in academic circles.  I wanted to know who the bad guys were, how art fraud was perpetrated, how to spot Renaissance fakes so I wouldn’t be fooled, the forensics of art crime, and what art owners did about art fraud and art crime.

Art crime has always been around, especially in Dürer’s time.  Dürer is actually the first recorded Western European artist to have sued for copyright infringement in Venice in 1506, when he learned that Marcantonio Raimondi was plagiarizing his prints. Dürer won most of his case (but did not get an injunction against Raimondi) and was granted a stamp of authenticity to put on his prints by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. Even Maximilian would not stop the on-going and known fraud, for he might need money from someone later.

What surprised me the most was learning that after banking, which has historically been the world’s most lucrative industry, the next biggest world industry was the art industry in every form, followed by drug smuggling.  Drug smuggling is so lucrative because of the way drug smugglers launder their money: they buy art and store the art around the world.  The Swiss have been eager to recognize the trend of the huge need to hide art by offering their old military bunkers as new storage facilities. It’s estimated that one singular facility near Lake Lucerne is storing $100 billion of value


So just like the diamond industry leads to “blood” diamonds (abject misery and war for the sparkles people sport) as reported by the National Geographic


what goes on in the art world absolutely is fueling the drug wars, whether we like to admit it or not, and is intimately connected with the world banking system.

Art rules the world.

Rachel Cohen’s article titled Gold, Golden, Glitter and Glittering, Representations of Value, or the Unexpected Double History of Banking and the Art World gives us insight into this ever existing relationship:


As Ms. Cohen writes the “Metropolitan Museum of Art is, among other things, a vast compendium of the tastes of financiers. From the days when J. P. Morgan was the powerful president of its board to the period in which Robert Lehman donated nearly three thousand works to be housed in a separate wing bearing his name, the museum has been built, stocked, and guided by bankers… When the Morgan and Lehman and Goldman and Sachs families ran the banks, the long-term reputation of the enterprise was a crucial asset to the bankers. J. P. Morgan’s collection was legendary. Paul Sachs, an early partner at the family firm, left banking to become a specialist in Italian Renaissance art, and to found the program in curatorial studies at Harvard.

Robert Lehman and his father, Philip Lehman, each of whom ran Lehman Brothers, together assembled one of the great collections of Florentine and Sienese art outside Italy. Not only did Gilded Age bankers study and collect art, they were interested in new representations of the future.

In 1906, Philip Lehman, then the head of Lehman Brothers, joined together with Goldman Sachs, and the two banks instigated a small revolution.  They made an initial public offering of the Sears Roebuck company that changed the way the value of a corporation was represented: based not on its total assets but on its price-to-earnings ratio. Both large- and small-scale investors could see that this new method produced a convincing representation of the present and future together. Vast amounts of new liquidity were generated, and one of the things that the new financiers had was money to buy paintings.

One of the great joint projects of painters and bankers—the modern art market—was also an invention of the Gilded Age. What made the art market as we know it possible, starting in the middle of the nineteenth century, was the availability of CASH. In 1961, Reitlinger pointed out, in his classic work The Economics of Taste, that large sums of cash could not be offered for paintings until people had large sums of cash, which no one did when wealth was held in land. It was only in the nineteenth century that industrialization and financialization produced the liquidity we now take for granted.  (Sound familiar?)

Suddenly people began to see paintings as representations not only of age-old values but of future values. And once they began to look at them that way, it mattered less how much time they’d withstood the test of. What people became interested in was not what the pieces were worth a hundred years ago but what they might be worth tomorrow. All through the twentieth century, prices for contemporary artwork were rapidly catching up to prices for works by old masters.

But even in the riotously speculative Gilded Age, reputations of the bankers acted as a curb against profiteering, one that no longer seems to have any effect on many members of our financial classes.”

Where is Bernie Madoff when we need him?

And then we had derivatives. Why is anyone confused?  The entire system is rigged as it has always been.  Reputation doesn’t matter any more, only marketing. And even with scandal, PR can manage most of the problems.  The Church did the same in the Renaissance.

Howard Rehs indicates in his AAD article May 23, 2012 Russian Roulette in the Contemporary Art Auction World…?  that contemporary art prices have gone into the stratosphere.

In the contemporary art auctions in NYC  at Sotheby’s and Christies, that “between the two main salerooms, more than $1 Billion worth of art traded hands and auction records were reached for dozens of artists” in one week No one can understand why these levels of art prices are being reached. And no one seems to remember the debacle of the Sotheby’s and Christies price fixing scandal of 2000-2002 as reported around the world for two years and encapsulated here https://confluence.cornell.edu/display/tam2011/The+Sotheby’s+Price+Fixing+Scandal. It seems to be happening again.

So what really is art crime?  And what really is art?  Who these days, gets to decide that?

But let us get back to Dürer, for the Chairman of Sears in the early 1900’s, J. Lessing Rosenwald, was one of the most prestigious and prodigious of art collectors, especially of Dürer prints.  Rosenwald put together many art collections for his friends, including George Perkins Marsh.  Rosenwald donated his Dürer collection to the National Gallery of Art.

Marsh ended up donating his Dürer collection to the US Library of Congress; I was fortunate enough to purchase a Dürer print de-accession from the Marsh Collection as arranged by Jan Lewis Slavid of R.J Lewis and Daughters.  I discovered this print is heavily encoded.

So why should anyone care about a hidden cipher produced by an artist more than 520 years ago?

Because of the whispers of art.

Nicola Fontanella made a stunning observation in her Art Antiques and Design article of May 25, 2013 Attitude’s the key….. which I repeat below:

“Luxury design embraces art as well as antiques. Our clients want a particular look, that’s what we are here to deliver, but all clients aren’t necessarily concerned about the origin of the piece that gives them the result they’re looking for. Pieces are not being bought as an investment but to be primarily decorative. We are not in the business of historical authenticity, but that’s not to say quality doesn’t count.”

What struck me immediately is that any owner of art and the dealers in this art (and this also applies to antiques and designers) need to realize that when any art is placed into any of their clients’ residences (home, apartment, yacht, etc), their clients’ minds are being manipulated by the artist that made that piece.  Always.

Can’t be otherwise for the human mind is always subject to the influence of imagery which really can’t be stopped. And unless a client really knows about the life of the artist and why that artist made that particular artwork, the mere presence of the artwork in the client’s life has subliminal impact upon the client and their family members, which may be positive or not. Historical accuracy is not important, but the actual image is.

As Pablo Picasso said “All art is diary” so what could be hanging in anyone’s home could be some subversive message, or a message about profligacy, or political propaganda or just plain fun, be it painting, print or sculpture.  And the subconscious impact of the artwork is happening regardless of conscious attention to the artwork, which makes it all the more important to pay attention to what is coming into the home. When people say “I may not know art, but I know what I like,” they are hearing or sensing the whispers of the artist.

What is your art whispering to you?

Dürer’s Cipher is an example of extreme messaging, and the technique is categorized as steganography, a technique that is as ancient as Greece.  This is where James Bond comes in, for steganography is the technique of passing messages without others knowing that messages are being passed.  Steganography differs from cryptography in the fact that when something is encrypted, everyone knows there’s a secret message being passed. With steganography, no one realizes secret messages are being passed, it’s privacy of the highest degree, allowing freedom in discourse. Steganography on the internet has become an extremely important technique to “watermark”  anything as original, art or otherwise.  For more on steganography see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography

All Renaissance masters were using the technique in some way but Dürer was the master of the technique and the master of deception. Until now, no one has really understood the messages that Dürer was giving everyone who bought his prints.  His artwork whispers secrets of enormous magnitude, that are as relevant to what is going on in any art market today.  This is why the Dürer Cipher is important to learn, for it exposes the real meanings of artwork hanging in museums, private collections or private residences, opening up a new vista in art history that has never been available before.

For no one to date realizes there is no melancholy in Melencolia.





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