Securing Art's Authenticity: Digital and Physical Tagging Technologies

October 2023

Once conclusive scientific and digital tests have been completed on a given artwork and authenticity has been confirmed, the linking of digital or physical tags to artworks is a vital step in ensuring the reliable attribution of an artwork.

Landscape, Caucasus (undulating composition), Oleksandr Bohomazov, 1915

Key Takeaways:

  • Once conclusive scientific and digital tests have been completed on a given artwork and authenticity has been confirmed, the linking of digital or physical tags to artworks is a vital step in ensuring the reliable attribution of an artwork.
  • The use of digital or physical art tags serves a multivalent purpose in the context of art authentication: verifying provenance, preventing forgery, protecting against art theft, guaranteeing insurance and valuation estimates and, ultimately, ensuring marketplace confidence and transparency.
  • Hephaestus has collaborated with Artclear to ensure that our recent authentications of two artworks by the Ukrainian avant-garde painter Oleksandr Bohomazov are immutably linked to the physical artwork.

Hephaestus Analytical has created a scientific protocol that cannot be reverse engineered. Therefore, the next element a forger might target is the digital record, meaning that the secure, indelible linking of a digital record to a physical object is a vital and necessary step in ensuring the reliability of our certification of authenticity.

Cases exist of authentic artworks being lent to exhibitions and swapped out for copies which are then returned to the unknowing lenders. At Hephaestus, we have had our paper records copied, duplicated and doctored, illustrating the necessary role of indelibly linking digital records to a physical object.

Landscape, Caucasus (undulating composition), 1915 by Oleksandr Bohomazov, authenticated by Hephaestus, is pictured here being Artcleared in James Butterwick Gallery, London.

Although the attaching of digital or physical tags to an artwork does not alone point to an artwork’s attribution, when used in conjunction with accurate analogue and digital tests or, equally, confirmed by a contemporary artist themselves, it ensures that the results authenticity is permanently linked to the physical object on the blockchain.

Artclear offers a powerful solution. The London-based company offers unparalleled precision in artwork identification, their unique scanner being configured to capture 7000 data points per inch (DPI) of a given artwork. As was carried out for the two paintings recently authenticated by Hephaestus, Artclear produces a secure digital Certificate of Authenticity (CoA), which has a unique digital code derived from the unique physical properties of the artwork. The link is tamper proof and unbreakable, as it is based on microscopic details from the artworks themselves. This unique code is aptly described by Artclear as a ‘fingerprint’ which is used as the basis for re-authenticating the work whenever required. The fingerprints offer forensic-level certainty - that is less than one in a billion chances of getting a false identification. So, if one of the Bohomazov paintings is rescanned in the future, its identity, and Hephaestus' authentication certificate can be confirmed with certainty in less than 10 minutes (the time it takes to scan). This record ensures that buyers and sellers can have greater confidence in the authenticity and provenance of a tagged work, ensuring more secure transactions and a more transparent art market.

The blockchain serves as a comprehensive and immutable ledger of transactions related to artworks and, therefore, through using an artwork’s digital ‘fingerprint’ to link the authenticated work with its digital corollary, it becomes possible to trace ownership changes, sales and other transactions in the art market. At Hephaestus, we believe that as forgery is eliminated as a risk for collectors, dealers and institutions, liquidity will be enhanced in the art market. As such, as new possibilities emerge for artworks to be traded and used as collateral in non-recourse art-backed loans, tagging is a vital means of ensuring trust and confidence in the market. Artclear offers one solution, RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips, DUST (Diamond Unclonable Security Tag) Identity’s mechanism and Tagsmart’s DNA tagging technology have also been used to this end.

  1. RFID chips use radio waves to transmit signals to activate the tag, as in a contactless card payment.
  2. DUST Identity utilises microscopic diamonds to create an unclonable identity layer on an object.
  3. Tagsmart offers the creation of certificates, signed by the artist or person who issued it on behalf of the artist, which include a holographic bordered tape that peels off to reveal a unique 6-digit code.

Tagging plays a key role in authenticity insurance, as discussed in our insights article on this subject. In case of loss or damage, having a secure digital certificate or physical tag streamlines the insurance claims process not only because the tag guarantees proof of ownership, authenticity and thus, value but also because it eliminates the risk of fraudulent claims for forged, non-existent or stolen artworks. In conjunction with rigorous analogue and digital tests, tags ensure the seamless operation of authenticity insurance and the financial services that Hephaestus’ authentication protocols enable.

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