Pauliina Laitinen

Hello, Pauliina! A bit of background, please?

Sure! I come from Pori. I studied Cultural History at Turku University, where I got my PhD in 2001 with a thesis on the Finnish art market. After that I started focusing on art investments and also art criminalities, like forgeries. I wrote several books, gave lots and lots of lectures, and got invited to many TV shows, as a specialist. I also have a column in Taloustaito, with a very loyal audience: they’ve been following me for 22 years!

Are you an artist yourself?

I have artists in my family, but I am not one myself. When my children were babies I tried painting a bit, made a few portraits, but I know I’m not good enough. I am a researcher, that’s my thing.

So you are more interested in the economic aspects of art?

No, no. I love art as a humanist, I come from a humanist field. At some point I thought of getting another PhD in economics, but that’s still a dream for now. So yeah, the interest in art as an investment is something I keep separate from the emotions, feelings, thoughts, and ideas I get from artworks. Art is always very personal for each person. But investments are not personal; to me they are case studies.

What do you do, in practical terms?

I research and investigate how prices fluctuate, and why. Art as investment is a tiny fraction of the market, about 2%. But it’s deadly serious, because it is an investment. Every artwork is a different story, of course, but there are certain parameters that can be used to compare. Like price, which is very, very important. For young artists at the beginning of their career, for example, it’s a good idea to set their prices low, to break into the market by reaching as many collectors as possible, which is vital for an artist’s reputation. Because art is a social thing, always. I have noticed people often ask others “how do you like such and such artist”?

By the way, are you aware of NFTs? My son is currently building Finland’s first Crypto-gallery in Vallisaari, behind Suomenlinna.

Can you give a general explanation of NFTs and Cryptoart?

Briefly, NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) are digital tokens used to identify ownership of unique items, such as a song, a piece of furniture, collectibles. Cryptoart focuses on NFTs which relate specifically to artworks. Back to the social nature of art, in Cryptoart artists form clubs where they gather and share thoughts and ideas, and also art collectors do the same, they form clubs and support or criticize artists, create desirability. So all these people share certain similarities, and that’s useful for auction houses, for example, to evaluate how many people collect what type of art, and how much are they willing to pay for it. It helps them with their bidding.

What about the Finnish market?

The Finnish market is very good for artists. It’s a small country, but we have built it very well, because the government supports artists financially with lots of different grants. And here art is not expensive, in bad times, good times, people buy. Lithographies, for example, sell really well. It’s all original art, because the artist signs every piece, but it’s not so expensive, so everybody can buy from a famous artist in Finland.

Still, it’s a small market, no?

In a way, yes. For example, if you’re an artist with a good production period, and museums buy from you, it’s unlikely they will buy again very soon. So local artists should always consider an international strategy. I myself think that NFTs may be an answer, but not many Finnish artists have embraced the new technology yet, because it’s not easy to get into.

Pauliina at home, and some of her authored books.

Let’s talk about forgeries. How did you get into it?

Probably because of my father, who was a huge fan of Finnish criminal history, it was his hobby. That’s probably where I got it from. But I started first researching art as an investment, and valuing art. People approached me asking me to value their collection, and I would sometimes discover an item would be a fake. So then I began researching art criminality, first in Finland and later abroad. Art fakes, stealing, robberies, money laundering…

How does criminality affect the market?

Many collectors mention they would very much like to invest in art, but they’re afraid of fakes. It’s a big risk, because they don’t have enough knowledge to protect themselves. The good thing is art fakes fall within the 2% of art as investment, so there aren’t as many different cases. Here in Finland we know we have about 45 artists who are targeted by art criminals. It’s almost always classical art, with pieces selling between 20.000 and 40.000 eu.

Sounds like it only affects rich people.

Not necessarily. People assume only rich people can afford art, but you can buy great works with just a little money. You can have a real Eero Järnefelt or a Picasso for 5.000 or 10.000 eu in your wall. There are different price categories, people just have to find theirs.

How do collectors find out they got a fake?

Because I value the items in their collection. They wish to sell something, or insure it, and I have to tell them “I’m terribly sorry, but this is a fake”.

How easy is it to detect a forgery?

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. I evaluate the artwork, and if I detect something fishy I send it to a conservator, where they can do a more technical analysis. For example, very often art fakes are a little bit better than the original work. Forgers add a bit more color, because more colorful artworks sell better. And fake graphics by Salvador Dalí, for example, may be repainted more saturated than the original. If you show the same painting, and one is more colorful, people will pick that one. For graphics, you have to open them, take them out of the frame, and research them. Another problem: if a painting is modern (made after 1950) it’s not so easy to judge from the pigments whether it’s fake or real. So hiring a conservator to research for authenticity may be 50/50. You have to pay a lot, and still you won’t get a definite answer. Art forgers know all this, that the system is slow, expensive, and 50/50, and time is on their side. It’s also shameful for the victims to go to the police and say “I bought a forgery”. Criminals who do this kind of thing are extremely good manipulators, very charming and socially intellectual.

Some of my clients have been victims, and it isn’t nice at all. Because sometimes, when they wish to value their artworks, some painful event is associated with it (a death in the family, a foreclosure, a divorce). And then they get more bad news.

Finland is so small. Don’t the police know all the crooks?

Maybe not the police, but those who’ve been on the field for a long time do. And I’ve been there for 30 years. I started when I was 20, I was a student in a small art gallery, and I could overhear these art fakes, criminals, talking to each other. They even asked me to sell fakes, and I said absolutely not! But I heard them, how they plan it and how they do it. It’s a criminal thing, with a criminal mind behind, you can never forget that. Media and entertainment make it look glamorous, but it’s very sad in real life. They want to fool people and take their money, they care only about themselves.

Do you report them to the police?

No, that is not my place. If I see something I stop right away and inform the collector or potential buyer. It’s up to them to take it further, because now it’s a police business; sometimes they report it and sometimes they don’t. Often so much time has passed that they don’t want to report it, or they may be ashamed, or it’s too much trouble.

Have you ever been mistaken about a suspected fake?

No, never. It’s a gut feeling. I am a very suspicious person, and I’m grateful that I am. I cherish the feeling because it has helped me many times. I tend to suspect everybody until I’ve had assurances that I don’t have to. When I’m approached about artworks, I usually check the person with the police, which has helped me so many times. I have cooperated with the local police and Interpol. If somebody tries to fool me, they will attempt to fool others, and I don’t accept that.

I’m a pedant person, I’m like wearing a microscope all the time, which is very useful. And also hyper-sensitive. When I’m shown a painting, for example, the feeling I get on the first few seconds is crucial. If I feel something is not right, it’s not right. This feeling has always been correct, and so far it has helped me enormously in my profession. Also, if I don’t get clear answers from the person, something is fishy. If it’s the real thing, you always get answers. Honest art dealers want to protect their reputation and they make sure you get only authentic pieces. Criminal art dealers, on the other hand, try to tarnish other people’s reputation, which has happened to me. An art criminal accused me of saying an original was a fake, and it was a fake.

Can things turn nasty?

Yes, they can. I have received threats from time to time and I’ve even been put into some international art criminal’s black list. But better not talk about those things.

In good company: Rodin, Picasso, Hannu Palosuo

You are also a Jaguar ambassador?

I am! The brand Jaguar wanted to have a connection with art, so they… chose me! I’ve had two Jaguars before the one I have now, because I like them a lot. Their looks, design, materials, and of course the technology. I like to read comparative tests, see how different brands are doing.

What do you have to do, as an Ambassador?

I produce content for the brand in social media, like photos and videos in Tik-Tok, Instagram, etc. Which is easy because I really like the brand, their history, their development. And all the little details! In the front windshield of my current car, for example, there’s a tiny image of a jaguar mother and two cubs. It’s tricky to find, you just need to know where to look. Lots of different kinds of small details, that somebody has thought about and included in the vehicle.

Does your work take you abroad?

Yes, I’ve been in art fairs all over the world, and before Corona I was very much involved in the international art market. I was living in Sweden, then the pandemic closed everything. Currently I have a lot of work in Finland with art owned by companies (they have paintings in their walls, and I’m hired to value them). Then I’ve got people who approach me to check whether an artwork is genuine, which comes in cycles. Sometimes, lots of fakes turn up, all together. Then there are periods when people are more concerned about their paintings, in September, December, it’s a seasonal thing. I’ve been doing this for thirty years, so I notice these patterns.

Plans for the future?

I’m writing a lot, especially during summertime. I have several researches going on at the moment. But now that the sun is shining it’s difficult to stay indoors and write! The best days for writing are rainy days!

You can follow Pauliina on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and read her blog on her website.