Art

Tagsmart stars alongside Mat Collishaw on BBC 4Tech

Watched by 25 million viewers in the Middle East and North Africa, BBC Arabic’s weekly 4Tech programme discusses technology, innovation and cyberspace.

Invited to take part in this week’s episode, Tagsmart demonstrated its unique triple-lock solution directly from Mat Collishaw’s studio. Our Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Steve Cooke introduced our technology by tagging Collishaw’s Insecticide 28 print. 

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Tagsmart has developed a unique, secure genetic “stamp” to identify, seal and verify the authenticity of artworks. Following an extensive collaboration between leading artists, surface chemists and conservators, every component of the Tag is part of a complex web of security measures, using revolutionary label technology featuring the latest synthetic DNA taggants and inorganic compounds.

Each Tag has its own unique reference number, linked to the artwork’s secure Certificate of Authenticity and its online Provenance Record.

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Alongside presenter Anees Alqudaihi, Collishaw also talked about his exhibition Thresholds, using the latest in VR technology. 

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Thresholds is a fully immersive portal to the past, restaging one of the earliest exhibitions of photography in 1839, when William Henry Fox Talbot first presented his photographic prints to the public at King Edward’s School, Birmingham.

Presented in London and Birmingham, the show is now relocating to Lacock Abbey, in Wiltshire, where it will open on September 16.

Watch the complete episode here.

Tom Toumazis MBE at PAIAM Conference 2017

Tom Toumazis MBE, Tagsmart’s Executive Chairman, was invited to speak at this year’s Professional Advisors to the International Art Market Conference, which took place at Sotheby’s Grosvenor Galleries at Aeolian Hall on 11 July. 

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He took the opportunity to discuss Tagsmart’s journey, which began with Steve Cooke, our Chief Innovation Officer, and renowned frame-maker Mark Darbyshire. Led by Tom, in the past couple of years we gradually assembled an esteemed board of advisers formed of the UK’s foremost security, art conservation, software and materials science experts. 

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Throughout Tagsmart’s evolution, we have endeavoured to create a solution which appeals and conforms to our clients needs and wants. We have worked extensively alongside scientists and conservators ensuring our Tag does not interfere with the artwork and is applied with ease. The outcome is our triple-lock solution for authentication encompassing the DNA Tag providing proof of origin, the Certificate sealing ownership and our digital Provenance Record acting as a digital passport over time. 

After a year since Tagsmart’s launch, we are pleased to be working with some of the UK’s leading artists including Mario Testino and Gary Hume and to have tagged over 5,000 works of art. 

We are honoured to have shared our story with other professionals in the field, discussing the challenges of establishing authenticity and how we believe technology is leading the way forwards in addressing this issue. 

A Taste Of Art

To commemorate the London Food Month, a month-long celebration of food conjuring up over 400 events across the city, we have gathered a selection of artists from around the world who focus on and involve food in their work. The creators of these pieces use the physicality and history of food to give their art meaning, both obvious and subliminal.

Food was created for consumption through the use of our mouths, but not everybody has the capability of digesting with their eyes. So put the paintbrushes, cameras and tools aside, and open your brain-buds to the sweet and savoury side of the art realm!

Vik Muniz’s Valentina, The Fastest, from the ‘Sugar Children’ series (1996)

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Vik Muniz has often used food to realise his impressive works. In a meticulous process and using a wide range of materials like sugar, chocolate and caviar, the artist recreates well-known images such as masterpieces or photographs. Viewed from a distance, the similarity of his works to its originals are striking. However, when seen up close the images turn the viewer’s attention to its symbolic meaning through the contextual use of materials. For example, for the Sugar Children series, Muniz took pictures of local children while on holidays in the Caribbean. Upon returning home, he recreated these images by arranging sugar on black paper. Embedded with irony, the sugar connotes both the essence of childhood and the hard labour of the local trade.


Chloe Wise’Moschino English Muffin (2015)

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Chloe Wise uses food as a recurring motif in her work. This artwork is a replica of a Moschino bag but made of English muffins, urethane, oil paint, leather, hardware and butter container. From Wise’s Bread Bags series, the artist playfully parodies high-fashion designer logos using bread as a symbol of status and wealth and hints to the uselessness of beautiful objects. It seems the artist is making a play on the word consumption meaning both indulging in food and overspending on superficial and unnecessary belongings. She elegantly comments on current societal trends and hierarchy in a fun and trendy fashion, managing to make highly expensive, chic and timeless bags look so good that it also undermines their value and draws attention to the meaningless nature of trends. The viewer is made to question: do I really need this or do I just want it?


Pope.L, Claim (Whitney Version) (2017)

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Pope.L (aka William Pope.L) has a long history of enacting arduous, provocative, absurdist performances and interventions in public spaces. Featured in this year’s Whitney Biennial. Claim is a giant pink cube with 2,755 slices of real bologna sausage nailed to it, slowing rotting over time and stinking up space, each affixed with a black and white photocopied snapshot of a person. From day one, the oily juices from the food were cooling into small basins that run along the floor, so the meat was not really rotting but actually curing, referencing the curing or healing of people. It is a recognition of people as human beings and not numbers. As the meat cures, the photograph is contorted, making the viewer question who are these people and if it really matters?


Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Soup/No Soup (2012)

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Rirkrit Tiranvanija uses human interaction as his primary material. And what better way to bring people together than through a mutual love for food? For the prelude of La Triennale 2012’s opening, Rirkrit was invited to transform the main nave of the Grand Palais into a festive, large-scale, twelve-hour banquet composed of a single meal. The artist creates innovative initiatives to involve the public into the art making process, bridging the gap between public and private art and negating the notion of art as an upper-class enjoyment.


Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan (1982)

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The area we now know as Battery Park City and the World Financial Center was once used by Agnes Denes’ to create her one of her most notorious works. Over a six-month period in 1982, Denes planted a field of golden wheat on two acres of rubble-strewn landfill. She explains: “Wheatfield was a symbol, a universal concept. It represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It was an intrusion into the citadel, a confrontation of high civilisation. Then again, it was also Shangri-la, a small paradise, one’s childhood, a hot summer afternoon in the country, peace, forgotten values, simple pleasures.” Denes is a pioneer in Land Art and highlights the controversies such as world hunger through her expansive and impressive installations.


Peter Anton, Pink Confetti Cake (2012)

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Peter Anton is an American artist and sculptor whose primary focus is food, with an emphasis on sweets and chocolates. The artist has a particularly interesting way of creating his artwork whereby he first needs to experience it through taste, smell and touch, to then thoroughly dissect his subject before depicting it. This intricate observation of his subjects shines through in his works which could fool anyone into believing they’re real, if not for their oversized nature. His nearly obsessive focus on all things sweet may be a hint to the human need and want for things which were once better enjoyed in moderation. An example is how through history in many cultures following a religious occasion a sweet would be offered as a special treat, however now people come up with any reason to consume sugar… Or just no reason at all.

A Shelter For A Memory

The London Festival of Architecture is Europe’s biggest annual architecture festival, and returns to the city this month with hundreds of events exploring ‘memory’. To celebrate the event, we dug into our own memory and recalled five impressive artworks that explore the ideas of shelter and remembrance.

Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost (1990)

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Ghost, Rachel Whiteread’s breakthrough piece, is a plaster cast of a living room, modelled on a typical Victorian terraced house in north London, similar to the one in which the artist grew up. In its melancholic beauty, Ghost is a resonant monument both to the individuals who once occupied this room and to our collective memories of home.


Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex (2015)

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Grayson Perry’s first building, a striking ‘secular chapel’ filled with his artwork, opened only for a limited period. Perry has described the building as the ‘Taj Mahal on the river Stour’ because it tells the (fictional) story of a local woman, Julie, whose husband had the house built as a shrine on her death.


Roy Lichtenstein’s House III (1997)

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Among Pop icon, Roy Lichtenstein’s last subjects was the image of the suburban American home. The smaller-than-life sculpture House III evolved from Lichtenstein’s large-scale interior paintings of the early 1990s and from work that revived his interest in playing with perspective. Exploring inverted perspective and symbolically complex messages of housing and shelter, the corner of the piece appears to project forward toward the viewer. However, by walking around the work one sees that the corner actually recedes and that the eye has been fooled.


Tracey Emin’s Everybody I Ever Slept with 1963-1995 (1995)

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Also known as The Tent, the artwork was a tent with the appliquéd names of, literally, everyone Tracey Emin had ever slept with, but not necessarily in the sexual sense. It achieved iconic status, was owned by Charles Saatchi and was destroyed in the 2004 Momart London warehouse fire. Emin has refused to re-create it.


José Bechara’s A Casa (2002)

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Exploring the concept of shelter and the familiar notion of housing, José Bechara establishes physical, metaphysical and visual relations to the habitat, creating poetic connections with the interior and the exterior of this place. By reorganising the space with a rigorous method, the artist uses everyday objects as geometric forms and inverts the idea of the shelter by putting objects that relate to the human presence outside of the house.

Who said ‘Flower Power’ is dead? Celebrating the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London’s most iconic flower festival, inspires millions through showcasing the best in garden design and has blossomed on us at Tagsmart too! In celebration of the event, now in full bloom until Saturday, May 27, here are our favourite flower-themed contemporary artworks:

1. Alex Katz’ White Roses 9 (2012)

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In a 1968 interview, Katz described his paintings of flowers as an extension of the cocktail party scenes he often painted. He remarked that the flowers are also ‘overlapping volumes’, which cover one another as they advance into the painting’s pictorial space. By selecting flowers as a subject, Katz sought to introduce a greater degree of movement in the work without literally representing something in motion, focusing on the unfolding form of a rose bud. And indeed, White Roses 9 offers a composition of volumes and spaces that dance across the surface of the canvas. Painted rapidly and assuredly, the flowers oscillate between states of awkwardness and grace typically associated with the human body. Katz’s roses, with their fleshy petals and serrated leaves, are aggressive and fierce, contradicting the serene association that flowers typically summon. (Source: Guggenheim Bilbao)


2. Takashi Murakami’s Blue Flowers & Skulls (2012)

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Perhaps Takashi Murakami’s most emblematic motif, these smiling flowers came into the artist’s work when he was preparing for his entrance exams for the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts. He then embraced the form over nine years teaching college students to draw flowers, even though as he once said, “I didn’t like flowers.” Blue Flowers & Skulls explores one of the central dichotomies of his art—between joy and terror, his optimistic as an artist and his pessimistic perspective on postwar Japan. This contradiction is symbolised by the contrast of bright smiling flowers and menacing representations of skulls. Both oppositional and parallel, the flower and the skull are reminders of the fragile vibrancy of life and the inexorable passing of time. (Source: Gagosian)


3. Beatriz Milhazes’ Gamboa Seasons Summer Love (2010)

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Influenced by the tropical climate and vegetation of Brazil as well as by the urban vibe of Rio de Janeiro, Milhazes combines traditional imagery and cultural clichés with plain geometric forms and structured compositions, creating dynamical and unexpected works. (Source: Galerie Max Hetzler)


4. Michael De Feo's Untitled (Last nude Playmate Kristy Garett by Sasha Eisenman for Playboy, Jan-Feb 2016) (2016)

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Inhabiting a space between fine art, street art, and appropriation, Michael De Feo’s (a.k.a. The Flower Guy) iconic flower symbols and graphic interventions began appearing on New York City streets as early as 1993. Re-working fashion imagery from magazine ads to bus shelter billboards by painting cascades of multicoloured petals onto the printed images, De Feo brings new life to his source material in a way that is both subversive and joyful. (Source: Danziger Gallery)


5. Marc Quinn’s The Archaeology of Desire (2009)

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Marc Quinn’s monumental Archaeology of Desire is based upon a naturalistic Phalaenopsis, a genus of the orchid family. The fine, papery petals defy the properties of the bronze medium in which they are cast to appear almost weightless and ethereal. The work belongs to a series of sculptures and paintings through which Quinn has explored the concept of ideal beauty achieved, especially, through genetic modification. On an immense scale, the delicate petals take on an ominous presence, resembling the wings of a Phalaena moth from which the flower takes its name; the lower part, in turn, assumes the appearance of pincer-like mandibles on the threshold of inertia, poised to snap shut, pierce and penetrate. The title of the work also hints at the sculpture’s latent sexual connotations; the heart of the flower’s anatomy is its reproductive organ, which lures insects for pollination. So, in turn, does this part suggest the human female genitalia. (Source: Marc Quinn)


6. Mat Collishaw’s Orchid 1 (2005)

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Of all the images with which he seduces and confounds the viewer, Mat Collishaw’s Infectious Flowers are probably his most beguiling achievements. On first encounter, we are struck by their exquisite colours and shapes, but closer inspection reveals their imperfections. The petals are not perfectly formed – areas are ravaged by, and almost pulsating, with a disease. In this way, the viewer becomes both seduced and horrified. Collishaw was inspired by the story of a 19th-century dandy who became so obsessed with flowers that he decided to lock himself away in his mansion that was filled with only his plants. His opulence became so much that the flowers became diseased, a parallel to the sickening of his mind.


7. Gerald Machona’s The Edelweiss (2013)

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One of the most notable aspects of Gerald Machona’s work is his innovative use of foreign currency (particularly decommissioned Zimbabwean dollars) as a medium. Initially, Machona started using the material in an attempt to convey the difficulties of the hyper-inflationary environment that Zimbabweans were living under until recently. But in 2008, it also became an interesting way to explore some of the underlying issues of class, migration and nationalism and the feelings of estrangement associated with the experience of “foreignness” while living in South Africa.


8. Banksy’s Flower Thrower (2003)

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This stencilled image may be Banksy’s most famous work. At first glance, it looks like a rioter about to throw a molotov cocktail. However, this ‘rioter’ is throwing a bouquet of flowers instead. By substituting flowers for a weapon Banksy makes us think about peace in a place we wouldn’t expect to find it. The work is surprisingly hopeful and upbeat.


9. Anya Gallaccio’s preserve ‘beauty’ (1991–2003)

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Anya Gallaccio is known for her work with organic materials such as flowers, fruits and sugar. Her installations often change over time as they decompose, sprout new life, or melt. In preserve ‘beauty’ 2000 gerberas are sandwiched between huge panes of glass and left to wither and rot. Gallaccio has described gerberas as a ‘disposable commodity’, mass-produced all year round. preserve ‘beauty’ was first displayed in the window of a London gallery, where it became a metaphor for her perception of the male-dominated art scene. (Source: Tate)


10. teamLab’s Floating Flower Garden (2015)

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With its roots anchored overhead, more than 2,000 suspended flowers float in a white bubble. As if endowed with a conscience, the flowers rise when the spectator approaches, and then descend once again. Offering a way to restore our sense of unity with nature, the interactive installation takes inspiration from a zen kôan in which a zen priest, in the 13th-century, left his meditative retreat in the mountains to teach the path of awakening. One day, he pointed to a flower in a garden and said: “The Heaven and I come from the same roots. Everything around me and myself is made of the same substance.”

It’s here! Meet our new Smart Tag for canvas works!

Just a year after the launch of Tagsmart Certify, a new standard for authenticity in art, we proudly present our new Smart Tag for canvas works, the latest addition to our family of tags designed for the mediums you love.

The problem of fakes and forgeries continues to plague the art market. Tagsmart’s new Smart Tag is a powerful countermeasure, which will offer protection to a larger segment of the market. I am encouraged by the innovation which is setting a new standard in authentication.“ – Colette Loll, Art Fraud Insights

The Smart Tag for canvas is archival and features the latest synthetic DNA and security elements. Its pioneering design allows for a quick and easy application and renders the Smart Tag flexible and free to bend, roll and expand/shrink with the natural movements of the canvas. Following conservation best practices, the Smart Tag fragments with any attempt to transfer or remove it, making it unable for reuse.

I believe this Smart Tag for canvas works will become a fundamental rule of thumb in protecting and securing artworks. This tag will revolutionise the art market, giving artists the opportunity to safeguard their highest valued works.“ – Deborah Azzopardi

Register now to order your Smart Tags for canvas, paper or aluminium works.

One year later: a letter from the Tagsmart team

Today we celebrate the one year anniversary of Tagsmart Certify. In that past year, we have made a commitment to continue to advance our authentication solutions so as to establish a new standard for authenticity in art and we’re pleased to say that we have achieved enormous goals in the last 12 months.

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Consciuous of the art market’s needs and lack of regulation, transparency and standards, we have produced stellar first-to-market advances. In April 2016, we proudly introduced to the industry its first all-round complete art authentication solutions. Our DNA Smart Tags for paper works, paired with a unique system for issuing secure Certificate of Authenticity, enabled for the first time artists, galleries and estates to assure the genuineness of their works and protect themselves and collectors against fakes, forgeries and misattributions.

Some months later, our Smart Tag for aluminium works was added to the Tagsmart solution, making it the first standalone secure genetic “stamp” to identify, seal and verify the authenticity of aluminium based works such as photographs. By this time, we have also provided artists with a means to issue secure Retrospective Certificates of Authenticity for works already sold which lacked this crucial document to guarantee its authenticity and generate its accredited ownership history.

Today, as a way to celebrate one year since the launch Tagsmart Certify, we are thrilled to announce the release of our most advanced solution, the Smart Tag for canvas works. A groundbreaking resource for the art world, our new Smart Tag will now empower artists, galleries and estates to set right issues of credibility and trust and offer protection to a larger segment of the market.

Inspiringly, our hard work and product innovation have been greatly noticed by art market in the past 12 months. Always at the forefront of all our activities, our focus on providing an outstanding solution and our dedication to our customers has proved instrumental to our success. In our first year, we have signed up hundreds of artists, including contemporary masters like Marc Quinn, Chris Levine, Mario Testino, Idris Khan and Deborah Azzopardi, as well as some of the most talented emerging figures such as Dan Hillier, Martin Yeoman and Bambi. We also had the pleasure of partnering with influential galleries such as Art Republic, the Mall Galleries, Beers London and Joseph Fine Art, and awe-inspiring estates like The Guirado Estate and The Ken Howard Foundation. Our deepest thanks to all of you, who’ve given us invaluable assistance and feedback throughout this period.

Tagsmart has also caught a lot of interest from the media. We are extremely proud to have been featured in some of UK’s biggest news outlets such as the BBC, the Sunday Times, Sky News and Reuters, as well as in art magazines and portals such as The Art Newspaper, Artsy, artdaily.org and State F22. We were equally delighted with the outstanding response we had in events such as The Other Art Fair, Art16, The Art Business Conference and the London Art Fair, motivating us to continue to develop solutions in a way that is innovative, reliable and with high quality.

None of this would have been possible without the exceptional guidance of our Advisory Board, which features world-renowned art collector Robert Suss as well as some of the world’s leading superheroes in the fine arts and materials science: Dr Matthew Baker, Mike Triggs, Dr Carinna Parraman, Professor John Watts, Dr Melanie Bailey, Graham Bignell, Professor Bill Redman-White, Joanne Wilson, Aino-Leena Grapin, Amy Todd Middleton, Colette Loll and Mike Adam. Thank you for your support and encouragement, always.

As we step into another year, we would like to share with you the marking of a year of Tagsmart Certify and the accomplishment of significant milestones, culminating with the launch of our new Smart Tag for works on canvas. 

But most importantly, we would like to say our most since ‘thank you’, after all this celebration is also yours.

– Tagsmart Team

Tagsmart hand-pick: Getting our spring vibes on!

With the arrival of spring, we felt like celebrating the upcoming launch of our new Smart Tag by asking some of our team members what are their favourite works on canvas when thinking of the new season.

The vast array in style demonstrates the wide diversity of taste in art amongst us. Nonetheless, one thing remains the same for all: there is plenty of enthusiasm and excitement for the days to come!

Luke Kang, Production and Fulfilment Manager & Artist 
Lois Dodd’s Self-Portrait in Green Window (1971)

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When I think of spring, nature immediately comes to mind. I feel that this piece by Lois Dodd is an embodiment of the season. The painting catches my eyes due to the use of off-green colours she uses and which I find rather curious given that the artist is known for her depiction of life and landscapes.

She portrays herself in a darker, shadowy green, giving her an undead appearance, the colours used on her self-portrait evoke a slightly sickly appearance. Yet, altogether the subject matter reflects opposing feelings, of fecundity, abundance, fruitfulness and life. I feel Dodd is making an ironic statement here possibly hinting back into the ideas of zombies and reanimation.

I also appreciate how confident she is with her painting style. She might mix paint before hand, but she doesn’t mix many colours one they are laid out on the canvas, instead opting for a flat and bold application of paint.

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Freddie Powell, Product Assistant
Alice Browne’s Powder (Poised) (2015)

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I searched ‘the best things about spring’ and the first answer to pop up was 'because it brings the hope of some sunshine for a least a few days in a row’.  I immediately thought of Alice Browne’s Powder (Poised) in which the colours of the season seem to be waiting to burst through. It’s not hard to be attracted to the almost fragrant selection of green, red and yellows on view, getting a sense for the lighter and longer days just after the clocks come forward.

Browne’s work focuses on her own fictional and imaginary architectures, shown here through connected blue lines and the works growing layered spaces between. Perhaps here she has painted spring itself, no longer just a season but a physical space for the viewer to explore and (finally) enjoy!

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Annalise Brocklehurst, Business Development & Client Services Executive
Damien Hirst’s Midas of Phrygia (2007)

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Damien Hirst’s Butterfly Colour Paintings remind me of spring because it is the time when trees blossom, a new life begins and our world becomes more colourful again. His piece with butterflies positioned in a circle suggests an idea of a cycle, with the passing of winter and the celebration of spring and life. Although some believe the piece could be interpreted as morbid and evoking death, as butterflies live on average for only a month, I believe the opposite. I see everything flourishing and it makes me feel uplifted and alive. 

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Julia Ferreira de Abreu, Marketing Manager
David Hockney’s The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011)

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This monumental 32-canvas painting forms one part of a 52-part work by David Hockney. The first time I saw this gem was at Hockney’s A Bigger Picture exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was February 2012 and I had had enough of winter. Spring seemed to be too far away and this artwork made me yearn for warmer weathers, brighter skies and flowers coming into bloom. It felt as if Hockney is inviting me to slip right inside the painting and walk along that lovely path under the trees!

The Arrival of Spring’s vibrant colours scream spring and represent the change of seasons with the same enthusiasm as mine. The rich reds and greens make me anticipate what’s to come and reflect on nature’s cycles, the passage of time and the small but significant changes that unfold daily before our eyes. Conveying the beauty and grandeur of nature’s transience and the warmth of the new season, it sets us on a journey to the rediscovery of the landscape. 

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Anastasia Aya Aroukatos, PR & Marketing Executive
Hope Gangloff’s Late Night (Olga Alexandrovskaya) (2015)

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Recently everywhere I look I amazed by the sprouting colours all around me, shocked that in a city like London such vibrant colours and flowers actually bloom. Maybe I have never paid enough attention? The sensation of feeling overwhelmed by the beautiful weather and nature that envelops me during spring makes me think of this painting by Hope Gangloff.

I feel like I draw some parallels between his work and that of Gustav Klimt, who is one of my all-time favourite painters. I especially love the intricate details and colours in the clothing and room decor. These patterns remind me of that time of year that I wait for in anticipation to go into our storage and pull out my spring wardrobe which is filled with an array of colourful prints. At the same time, there is a lack of light and life in the colours, reminding me that summer is not yet here, but around the corner!

Introducing Tagsmart’s Advisory Board

Tagsmart is honoured to introduce its Advisory Board comprising some of the world’s leading experts in the fields of arts and science. Its purpose is to assist Tagsmart in meeting its mission by sharing insights and knowledge on the art market needs and trends, as well as contributing to the latest scientific developments and applicable research.


We are proud to be supported by Dr Matthew Baker, Mike Triggs, Dr Carinna Parraman, Professor John Watts, Dr Melanie Bailey, Graham Bignell, Professor Bill Redman-White, Joanne Wilson, Aino-Leena Grapin, Amy Todd Middleton, Colette Loll and Mike Adam and grateful for their crucial insights and distinctive expert advice.

This dedicated trusted group of individuals shapes our business and is vital to our performance and engagement, ensuring our overall success in establishing a new standard for authenticity in art.

For more information, please visit www.tagsmart.com/about-us.

Can you spot the difference?

The art of forgery has progressed step by step with the evolution of art. Some forgers even create fake paper trails. Others are so accurate that even the experts can’t tell them apart, and then science must step in to analyse the paint, canvas or relative age of the work.

At the Piramal Museum of Art in Lower Parel, an exhibition titled Likeness Without Reference – The Cultures of Forgery, is putting the real and the counterfeit side by side to try and show viewers the scale of the problem, and teach them a little bit about how to tell real master art from forgery (signatures and markings play a key role, FYI).

Faking it: Does the forged Vermeer that fooled Goering belong in a museum?

There ain’t no way that’s a Caravaggio.

Let me pause and leave you with that thought, before we circle back to it.

So there I was this weekend, in the small Dutch town of Deventer for my best friend’s wedding. I walked past the enormous former cathedral, stripped to the bricks during the Reformation, en route to complete task number 1 in my duty as best man: buying a postcard and a pen. That’s when I passed a sign at the town’s museum: Een Echte van Meegeren. “An Original Van Meegeren.” What were the chances? My last book was an illustrated history of forgery, prominently featuring Han van Meegeren, Dutch art forger extraordinaire, and there happens to be a special exhibit of his forgeries a few paces from where my friend is about to get hitched? In I went.

And here’s the thing. Van Meegeren’s paintings may look nothing whatsoever like the work of Vermeer, and it remains extraordinary that the world’s leading specialists were so convinced that Van Meegeren’s forgeries were Vermeer originals — but they are extremely beautiful. They also fulfill Aristotle’s definition of what makes for great art: His paintings are good (they exhibit skill), they are beautiful (a subjective opinion, but a legitimate one) and they are interesting. Interesting not because they are some revolutionary new interpretation of art, but because of the story they embody, possibly the most dramatic of all known forgery cases. Van Meegeren was arrested after the Second World War for having sold Dutch cultural heritage (a Vermeer painting) to the enemy (Herman Göring, head of the Luftwaffe and a ravenous stolen art collector). This was considered high treason and, if found guilty, van Meegeren could have been executed. Oops. He rather frantically tried to explain his “recipe” for forging a Vermeer, but was not believed until he actually painted another one while incarcerated.

Looking at Van Meegeren’s paintings in person for the first time, I was struck by the thought: I’d love to own this.

I would love to be a forgery collector. The problem with forgeries is the whole being-duped thing. Buyers don’t want to feel that they’ve had the wool (expensively) pulled over their eyes. If you think you’ve bought a Tesla, paid Tesla prices, and it turned out that someone stuck a Tesla chassis on a Renault Zoe, you’d be pretty pissed. Same deal (but think in the millions rather than the tens of thousands), and you’ll understand the reaction of buyers who might have thought they were acquiring a Vermeer (worth tens of millions) but actually have a Van Meegeren (worth perhaps in the mid-five figures, largely because of the story behind his crime). But what if you know that it’s a Van Meegeren forgery of a Vermeer? Stripped of the fraud component, what you have is an extremely skillfully executed painting, beautiful and with a heck of an interesting story behind it. It becomes a relic of the story in which it featured, but it can also be admired for its aesthetic value.

Forgery stories pop up all the time. In recent months, suspicion has floated that there is a previously unknown master forger of Old Master paintings (or ring of cooperating forgers) whose works are bobbing to the surface. Extremely good, expert-fooling forgeries have been spotted only with great difficulty: a painting by Lucas Cranach, a Franz Hals, a stunning Orazio Gentileschi. Add to this the Caravaggio I mentioned at the start of this essay, supposedly found in a family’s attic in Toulouse. This makes for at least four extremely convincing works that divide scholars. A handful still contend that each is authentic (or at least that evidence has yet to be made public that proves otherwise). Others argue that these are recently-made forgeries. Then there is the third option: that they are copies after original works, made not with fraud in mind (and therefore not a proper forgery), but later misattributed as an original.

The idea that there is a “ring of forgers” is probably the least likely option, especially considering the works in question are skillfully executed, naturalistic works. One of only a few known proper forgery rings was in Siena in the 1930s, built up around Icilio Federico Joni, who specialized, along with his comrades, in Sienese Gothic altarpieces. But that is an outlier. Almost all known forgers have created alone (though many worked with others who functioned as front men and did the actual conning). There are some organized crime groups who dabble in forgery, but they tend to focus on far easier-to-produce, and often more valuable, modern works (like the Austrian/Slovenian gang just busted for trying to sell forged Picassos at 10 million Euros a pop). Abstract, minimalist work is artistically easier to produce than intricate, naturalistic paintings, but more than that, the materials are easier to get hold of (to resist forensic testing), and forgers do not have to replicate centuries of patina and craquelure if the work in question is only meant to be a few decades old.

So how do we know if these works are a) original, b) forgeries or c) copies that were misattributed as originals?

Forensic testing can only tell us so much. It can tell us the rough date that organic materials in a painting were made, and that’s pretty good. That should rule out a forgery, especially for Old Master works from the 16th or 17th centuries. But it can rarely guarantee authorship. Just because the Toulouse “Caravaggio” painting of Judith beheading Holofernes dates to circa 1610 does not make it a Caravaggio. Caravaggio’s work was so wildly popular that a wash of other artists sought to emulate his style (they are featured now in London’s National Gallery, at an exhibit called “Beyond Caravaggio.”) The original of this painting hangs in Rome at Palazzo Barberini, so this is necessarily either a copy by Caravaggio (and we have no historical record or precedence of him making an exact copy of one of his own paintings, as he altered them when asked to do multiple versions of a single subject, like his “David with the Head of Goliath” or “Supper at Emmaus” paintings), or a copy after Caravaggio. The latter is far more likely and, frankly, is what I thought immediately upon seeing a digital image of the Toulouse painting. It just doesn’t look good enough to be by Caravaggio himself. It looks like a solid, contemporary copy, likely by a 17th century painter who tried to learn Caravaggio’s best-selling style (which the artist fiercely guarded — he sued those who tried to ape him). It’s valuable. It’s interesting. I’d be delighted to have the work on my wall. But it ain’t no Caravaggio.

Which brings me to my point. Depending on the law of the country in question, some forged artworks proved as such in court must be destroyed (in France, for instance), a draconian move meant to make it impossible for forgers to profit from their crimes. Other nations keep forgeries for didactic purposes (Scotland Yard owns many wonderful forgeries from their successful investigations, and occasionally shows them in exhibitions) — when I taught a course on art crime at Yale, I was able to dip into recognized forgeries in the Yale Art Gallery’s storerooms and use them in hands-on seminars with my students. Forgeries should be noted as such, and it’s no good if they continue to fool people. Likewise, it probably is immoral, and should likely be illegal, for convicted forgers to profit from the sale of their art or image rights to them (this is why the blockbuster Scotland Yard exhibits at London’s V&A Museum never came with a catalogue — they would have had to pay the forgers for permission to use the images). But forgeries are beautiful, interesting, skillfully made objects that are a component of the history of art, culture and crime. As long as they no longer trick us, they are works that I, for one, would be delighted to collect.

An art fair through the eyes of Tagsmart Certify artist Idris Khan

It’s not often that you’ll find a world-renowned artist roaming the halls of an international art fair. But for Idris Khan, the experience can be enriching.

“Art fairs are necessarily not for artists,” says Khan, whose work combines painting, photography and sculpture.

“What it does is it opens art to the masses a lot more. Not everyone goes to museums, not everyone can go and buy in galleries, so I think it opens up people’s minds in a much more global way.”

Artist Lee Ufan’s forgery scandal continues

Three people have been arrested for allegedly forging and selling copies of artist Lee Ufan’s paintings. A National Forensic Service investigation confirmed that the six works in question do not align with genuine pieces by Ufan. The artist, however, maintains that the 13 paintings in questions are his authentic works.

Following a tip-off last December, the police raided Seoul galleries suspected of selling fake artworks by Ufan. The following month the police said that the Certificate of Authenticity for his 1978 painting From Point No. 780217, which was sold for US$415,600 to a private collector at an auction last year, had been forged. Although the artwork itself was proven to be authentic, the incident raised further suspicions surrounding the authenticity of his paintings.

In May and July, the police arrested three art forgers for 55 fake pieces claimed to have been done by Ufan, and selling them through the same gallery implicated in the latest police discovery. With four of the 13 paintings seized by the police credited to this group and six paintings claimed to have been forged by the latest forgery ring, the source or sources of the remaining three seized paintings are still unknown.

Ufan has been steadfast in his claims that the paintings alleged to have been forged are in fact his works. “A person’s flow and rhythm are like one’s fingerprints, which cannot be imitated,” he said at a press conference in June, after examining 13 works the National Forensic Service seized and identified as fake. “They are undoubtedly mine.”

The Mayor Gallery files lawsuit against Agnes Martin catalogue raisonné

A new lawsuit is brought by the Mayor Gallery against the Agnes Martin Authentication Committee underscores the importance of shielding authenticators from liability, and the problems inherent in the status quo.

The Mayor Gallery sold certain paintings to individual collectors in the belief (and representing) that the works were by Agnes Martin. The prices for the works ranged from US$2.9 million for Day & Night, to US$240,000 for an Untitled work, to US$180,000 for The Invisible, among many others. These works were all at some point, according to the Complaint, submitted to the Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné and its Authentication Committee.

The Mayor Gallery alleges that the various Agnes Martin works were submitted for authentication pursuant to the Authentication Committee’s Examination Agreement. In each work at issue, the Committee apparently rejected the idea that the works were authentic. The gallery argues that such rejection was reached with an inadequate level of interest or responsiveness, and as a result, it rescinded its sales to the individual owners and repaid the purchase price.

Is a dead shark in a tank really worth millions of dollars? Art, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder—but Damien Hirst’s infamous 1991 work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, fetched a reported US$12 million for reasons aside from its creative merit. In the video above, Vox breaks down the economics behind high-profile art market sales, and explains why an art dealer’s reputation is sometimes just as important (if not more so) than a work’s creator.

JLT warns art dealers after £8.5 million painting forgery

Major broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson has warned art dealers against the impact of art forgeries after the painting An Unknown Man, thought to be by Dutch artist Frans Hals and sold for £8.5 million was recently declared fake. 

According to Sotheby’s, tests revealed that the painting was “undoubtedly” forged. The firm had “rescinded the sale and reimbursed the client in full.”

JLT warned that in many cases, collectors will not be able to claim against their insurance if they discover that their art pieces are forgeries. However, there are certain policies that cover these cases, according to Daniel Smith, a member of JLT’s Fine Art, Jewellery and Specie team.

“Although the take-up of this sort of policy is relatively low, I think we’ll start to see a significant increase as the possibilities of more forged Old Masters are uncovered,” he said.

Smith said dealers can purchase professional indemnity insurance to protect themselves from customers’ lawsuits resulting from art forgeries. However, most dealers don’t bother getting cover because of the costly nature of the policy, Smith noted.

“In light of this recent issue as well as a number of similar high-profile forgery cases this year, I would urge dealers to consider safeguarding themselves against the impact – both in terms of money and reputation – that cases such as these can have on their business,” Smith said.

New law to root out counterfeit artwork in Korea

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced Thursday that it will legislate a new law regarding artwork distribution in an effort to root out the distribution of counterfeit works, recover public trust in Korea’s art market, and establish a healthy trading platform for creative crafts. The law will be implemented in August 2017.

The new law will divide art distribution into three major categories: art galleries, which will be subject to a registration system; art auctions, to a permit system; and other sales of artworks, to a reporting system.

Currently, art galleries or art auction houses can operate with only a business license, and without official registration or approval, which led to criticism that they lacked transparency and engaged in unfair practices in their art distribution process.

With the new law, however, art galleries will have to submit plans to prevent counterfeit artworks as well as a list of all of their affiliate artists. Auction firms will also have to provide counterfeit prevention measures, while possessing certain qualifications including at least 200 million won in capital, an official auctioneer, and an auction house.

Furthermore, artwork distributors will be obliged to maintain records for each of their artworks, and issue an official warranty when they’re sold. Failure to do so will also be result in fines and cancelled business licenses.

The law will implement stronger punishment for counterfeit crimes as well, by stipulating that these types of crimes be punishable by up to five years in prison or 50 million won in fines. The ministry will also consider the potential implementation of special judicial police specific to artwork fraud.

Meanwhile, the ministry is to establish a national body for artwork authentication, which will function as the official agency responsible for developing new authentication technology and professionals in related fields.

“The institute will be operated not as a government agency but as a public one, and will help improve Korea’s art authentication technology, as well as aiding with crimes, investigations, and trials related to counterfeit artwork,” said Jung. “It will be staffed by professional researchers and appraisers.”

The full details of the law are to be revealed in the first half of 2017.

Marc Quinn sculptures to go on display around Qatar

Doha will have in its midst two monumental sculptures by Tagsmart Certify artist Marc Quinn — Frozen Wave and The Origin of the World — as the Anima Gallery, The Pearl, prepares to roll out Quinn’s first solo exhibition in the region titled Marc Quinn at Anima and featuring some of his finest sculptures and paintings. The two awe-inspiring sculptures will be exhibited outdoors for the first time; one to be displayed in front of the Museum of Islamic Art, and the other outside the Anima Gallery. The exhibition opens on November 13 and will be on till February 13, 2017.

French firm to authenticate controversial Korean painting

Chun Kyung-ja was one of the most prominent female painters in Korea’s modern art history. She is best known for her portrayal of women and flowers, as shown in her controversial painting Beautiful Woman.

The controversy began in 1991 when Chun claimed that a painting attributed to her, which was (and has since been) on display at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), was a fake. An authentication process soon followed, but eventually the museum and the Galleries Association of Korea (GAK) announced that the work was legitimate.

Unconvinced and full of despair, Chun donated 93 of her works and left Korea for the United States in 1998, never to return. During the entire period of her exile to the U.S. up until her death in 2015, Chun never painted again.

But the authenticity dispute resurfaced with media coverage of Chun’s later years and the controversial painting, with Chun’s remaining family members and their team of lawyers filing a lawsuit in April against MMCA officials claiming that the museum had declared a counterfeit painting as a genuine one.

The lawyers have since demanded that an outside institution with no relationship to the MMCA or the GAK carry out an authentication process for impartiality, which is when the French art technology firm Lumiere Technology stepped in.

The authentication team from the French company arrived in Korea Tuesday, according to the Prosecutors’ Office, and has since been carrying out its authentication procedure using the company’s self-pioneered technique called Layer Amplification Method; the same method the company used to analyze the Mona Lisa and discover a hidden portrait under the iconic Da Vinci painting.

The method will analyse the controversial painting for its various elements, such as brush stroke, paints, and the order of workflow, and compare it to other works by Chun for a comparative analysis. According to the prosecutors, the process is expected to wrap up by the end of the month.

Prosecutors will be piecing together all the corroborative evidence, including the final verdict from Lumiere Technology, to determine the authenticity of Beautiful Woman, and officials are hopeful that the decades-long dispute will finally be settled.

#TagsmartTips for TOAF artists

Hi there! As The Other Art Fair approaches, we at Tagsmart thought we could give you a hand. We know how overwhelming an art fair can be, so we’ve created this handy checklist to help you make sure you don’t forget anything:

1. Photograph all your artworks and ensure you have the best quality digital copies saved.

2. Create your artwork records on the Tagsmart Certify platform: guarantee the authenticity of your artworks, create your online catalogue which can be viewed and shared on social media or via email, and ensure you will be able to issue secure Tagsmart Certificates of Authenticity for your buyers at the fair. Not a Tagsmart Certify artist yet? Register now!

3. Set all prices set and have cheaper priced artworks for those who cannot purchase the more expensive pieces. Don’t forget to bring along some red dot stickers to indicate an artwork has already been sold.

4. Let our team know if you need any Tagsmart Certify materials. Do you need Smart Tags for your artworks? Order them now! How about some promo materials? Just get in touch and we can send you sample Certificates of Authenticity and ‘Tagsmart Registered’ wall stickers.

5. Don’t forget your business cards to be given to your buyers and people who show an interest in your work. How about sending a newsletter to your collectors too?

6. Package and transport the artworks with special care and create label cards to be included alongside the artworks.

7. When setting up the exhibition space, imagine how visitors will interact with your artworks. Which piece will they see first? Try to plan ahead what will be replacing the sold artworks.

8. Take pictures! This is a moment you will want to remember for years to come!

Good luck, have fun and enjoy yourself!