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Cruise Ship Art Auction Controversy (part 3)

| July 18, 2008

Art auctions on cruise ships have become controversial for a number of reasons - caveat emptor, buying art is risky and expensive.

The Story Gets Deeper

Just what I have said so far should be enough to scare most people away from these auctions. But in fact the story gets far more complicated. Teri Franks, CEO of FineArtRegistry, has much more to say about Park West Galleries.

Teri told me that so far about 100 people have contacted FAR about the art they bought onboard. The majority have been given full refunds or had their deal rescinded (those who had not yet paid). Others are still in the process of receiving a refund or having their deal rescinded. Nobody who persisted in demanding a refund or rescission of their deal has been turned down.

However, Park West is also in the process of suing FAR for defamation and slander - a strange circumstance where they are honoring Teri and suing her at the same time. In fact, Teri tells me the FAR counter-suit will show Park West is behind this defaming web site about her. A whois search doesn't confirm it, but it is registered in Ontario, just across the river from Park West's hometown.

Teri says FAR is not the only journalistic source to be sued by Park West. Apparently many reporters who have dared to write articles or air similar news reports have also been sued. Most have either interviewed Teri or contributed articles to the FAR web site.

I have personally received a number of complaints about art auctions here at CruiseMates over the years, and a search on the Internet shows many more complaints on other web sites.

To be clear, Park West Galleries owns the art auction concession rights on Carnival, Holland America, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and other cruise lines. They do not own the art auctions on Princess.

The Princess program got itself into very hot water a few years ago when it was discovered that their supplier was found to be making unauthorized prints and selling them online. Many of those prints also went onto Princess ships. To Princess' credit they contacted many buyers voluntarily to give refunds. That art supplier went to prison.

What was her crime? First of all, the value of any print is derived from its rarity, so printing beyond the limited edition number dilutes the value of each piece greatly. Secondly, the artist is supposed to be directly involved in the reproduction process, but she was not even telling the artists she was making more prints. Third, she owed royalties to the artists for every print she sold, but she was hiding her profits from them.

Let's be perfectly clear; Park West has never been charged with any such illegal practices. In addition, Park West has voluntarily refunded money to many consumers who said they felt misled by the auctioneer. Park West will say that they cannot possibly monitor every auction every day, and that is obviously true.

Shipboard auctioneers work on commission, and word is that they make a lot of money. An actual art history major writes of her experience with the Park West auctioneer training program in the FAR forums. She says she was turned down after a month of training for not having the right "sales mentality."

She and two other former auctioneers-in-training posting in FAR make one of the darkest allegations about Park West, which I will not say I know to be true. I am only relating what others have said online, right or wrong.

An embellished print has real paint strokes added for a personal artistic touch - so they sell for far more than a simple printed lithograph or giclee. An embellished painting by Peter Max will sell for over $10,000, for example. These people said the company employs these people with art degrees to sign or embellish these prints -- instead of the original artist.

Here is the trick she describes; a poster with real paint flourishes added may be sold as "signed by artist" or "embellished by artist" but they don't say "signed or embellished by THE artist." There is no hard evidence, but she saw staff artists at the training facility with fresh paint on their hands and clothes all the time. It was never explained what they do there, and she concludes, "what else would they be doing there?"

The answer could very well be art restoration - a perfectly legitimate service Park West offers on its web site. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously weak, but it would be scandalous if it were true.

Comment on this article here.

The Fight over Legitimacy of Dalí Prints

It gets FAR more complicated.

FineArtRegistry and other art experts say Park West appears to be selling Salvador Dalí prints with "fake" artist signatures. FAR also says that even if the signatures on prints are real the prices for authentic signed Dalí prints are much lower than the typical Park West auction price.

Park West, on the other hand, fully disputes this suggestion and has gone to great lengths to authenticate its Dalí collections. But this is difficult to do since Dalí is dead, and his works are often highly controversial much of it caused by the artist himself.

Dalí lived until 1989, but he is said to have stopped painting in 1980 when his wife died. Giuseppe and Mara Albaretto of Turin, Italy claimed to have acquired a huge collection of works that had come directly from the artist. They couldn't supply proof of their origin, they said, because they were either gifts or pieces Dalí's sister sold behind his back when she needed money.

However, in 1987 Dalí signed a notarized statement that he "does not consider any of the opinions of the Albarettos regarding his work or its authenticity to have any value whatsoever."

Dalí also signed a statement qualifying Albert Field of New York as the official registrar of his graphic works, the sole keeper of record. Dalí worked with Field nearly until the day he died, a 40-year period. Once completed, Field's book became the world standard for authenticating Dalí graphics.

The Albarettos kept their Dalí collection private for many years, but finally decided to show it in Germany in 2000. Several art experts came to the showing and claimed to be appalled at the number of fakes. They cited the fact that none of them appeared in the Field catalog and that there were no contracts, receipts or documentation saying the works were by Dalí.

The German police, called in to investigate, also concluded the collection was mostly fakes, but the Albarettos returned to Italy and nothing further was done. They later produced a letter supposedly signed by Dalí saying they did have contracts for the hand-signed prints.

Unfortunately, upon investigation it was found the letter was dated from the 1960s but created on a typewriter and paper stock that did not exist before 1970. German investigators were finally able to enter the Albaretto home where they confiscated the obvious fakes which all could be traced to one publisher, Les Heures Claires. This company, it turns out, was created by Giuseppe Albaretto, which published a collection of prints called the Divine Comedy.

The Les Heures Claires publishing company is the source for many Park West prints by Dali, according to FAR and other experts. It is the origin of the Dali in my video.

Albert Field completely excluded the specific Divine Comedy works that Park West is selling from his official Dalí catalogue, according to the New York Times and FAR. According to another web site created by Teri Fischer, SalvadorDalifakes.com, a statement of authenticity that Park West supplies for their Les Heures Claires Divine Comedy works does not include the name of the specific piece, so it could have been for any work.

The problem is, Dalí signed a lot of things. It is said that at one point in his life he signed countless blank pieces of paper that art publishers later used to make "signed" prints of some of his more famous paintings. It is estimated that there are a half million authorized and signed Dalí prints in the world, but the number of fakes worldwide is estimated at five million.

Jean Estrade Les Heures Claires is the origin of the Dalí in this video of a Dalí print at auction by Park West, appraised at $12,700 and sold for $10,200 after the auctioneer describes it as "very very very very very collectable." I would be interested in seeing what kind of reaction a land-based art dealer would have to this print. Here is an art gallery web site with a Jean Estrade Les Heures Claires Divine Comedy wood engraving, signed in pencil and in the block, for sale for $3530. Another site shows similar prints for about $3000 average.

Teri Franks and associate David Phillips took two Dalí "Biblia Sacra" prints, complete with Park West invoices and certificates of authenticity as hand-signed lithographs, to Ernst Schöller, a senior art fraud detective with the Baden-Wurttemberg state police in Stuttgart, Germany. In a video and article by Phillips, Schöller refers to the prints as "poster art;" photomechanical reproductions, not lithographs, and not hand-signed by Dalí.

Naturally, to protect their investment Park West Galleries has taken steps get these works further authenticated. They have hired two Dalí experts, Lee Catterall and Bernard Ewall to help them. Meanwhile, other Dalí experts say these men are only working with Park West for the money, and they are not true Dalí experts.

In a FAR article, Bruce Hochman, certified appraiser and proprietor of one of the largest Dalí-only galleries in the country, says of the signatures on some Park West Dalí prints "They're all the same. And we feel they're done with an auto pencil device." This is just one man's opinion, and it doesn't prove Park West did anything wrong if they were duped themselves, but Park West is also suing Hochman, according to Teri Franks.

In fairness, I must point out that any Park West detractor may have a stake in disputing any collection they don't own themselves. I must also say that FineArtRegistry is embroiled in other controversies not related to Park West Galleries.

Also for the record, Park West has already received one default judgement against FAR in their lawsuit because the company did not reply to a summons. Teri Franks, formerly a paralegal, says that she was not notified she was required to reply by "e-file" and that it was merely a technical oversight which she is in the process of appealing now.

Summing Up My video does not reveal anything that says it is not a true Dali, except that it does appear to have been printed by the Les Heures Claires some of which are considered fakes and it would take an expert to figure out if this is one of them. I am no expert, and perhaps that is the only problem. It is the experts who give people bad news, and that is my point. There is too much for a non-expert to know to be buying these prints with confidence.

I also need to point out that I contacted Park West Galleries to comment on this article and they did not respond before the article was ready to run.

My point in this article is not to paint Park West as anything underhanded. It is purely to point out the controversy surrounding their practices. My audience of cruise enthusiasts is exposed to these art auctions on a regular basis and I feel it is my duty to inform them of any controversial aspect of their cruise.

Art collection is a very tough business and such controversy alone is enough to devalue your investment, if indeed it is a real investment at all. I believe even Park West would say, "It is art, you buy it because you love it." But nothing is sadder than love becoming an expensive mistake.

Comment on this article here.

Legal definions of original artwork: (Thank you Gary Arseneau)

Copyright Law of the United States of America www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#101

  • § 101. Definitions2 A "work of visual art" is - (1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or
  • § 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works36 Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords; (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • § 101. Definitions2 A "derivative work" is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction,
  • § 106A. Rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity37 (a) Rights of Attribution and Integrity. � Subject to section 107 and independent of the exclusive rights provided in section 106, the author of a work of visual art - (1) shall have the right - (A) to claim authorship of that work, and (3) The rights described in paragraphs (1) and (2) of subsection (a) shall not apply to any reproduction,
  • § 103. Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative works (b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

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