Showing posts with label connoisseurship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label connoisseurship. Show all posts

July 19, 2014

In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?

Toby Bull in Amelia (Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Toby Bull, Senior Inspector of Police, in Hong Kong returned to Amelia  in June to present "In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?" at the Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

“I was present at a public talk about  month ago in Hong Kong by one of the chairman from one of the big three auction houses and he actually used the ‘f- word’ in public,” Inspector Bull said. “And the ‘f-word’ in this case stands for fakes which shows that this hitherto unspoken word is now at least getting some recognition from the art trade in Hong Kong.”

Toby Bull discussed how modern scientific authentication methods have gradually helping shift the onus of detecting fakes pieces from the art historian and connoisseur to the laboratory scientist. Bull looked at the authorship of art – encompassing the thorny issue of attribution and authenticity, looking at the range of processes and methodologies needed to authenticate art in paintings, ceramics and metals. Bull differentiated scientific examination (where it can deliver information that cannot be determined otherwise, revealing many unexpected cases of forgery) from connoisseurship (the ability to make reasoned assessments about artistic authorship, distinguishing between originals and copies and thus identifying forgeries). "Whilst appearing to be at the far and opposing ends of the authentication spectrum, the subjective connoisseurship research methods of the art historian and the forensic testing procedures of the scientist are not only complimentary but also very vital facets for the art authenticator to have in his arsenal in the war against fakes and forgeries," Bull said.

Toby J.A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. His thesis was on the levels of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics in Hong Kong and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China and has subsequently had his work on this subject published. Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. He has lectured extensively on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art and The World Congress of Forensics, as well as to ARCA’s ‘Art Crime Conference’ in Amelia, 2013. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy.

July 15, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: Tanya Starrett on "What’s wrong with this picture? Standards and issues of connoisseurship"

Tanya Pia Starrett (left) presenting on panel chaired by
ARCA founder Noah Charney (right)
Tanya Pia Starrett, a Solicitor from Glasgow living in Umbria, presented on "What's wrong with this picture" Standards and Issues of Connoisseurship" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Amelia on June 29. Ms. Starrett holds masters degrees in archaeology and history and is a freelance translator.

Ms. Starrett discussed issues surrounding authentication in art, restitution of cultural property, and the standards and issues on art connoisseurship (excerpts follow):
The debate is thus: The law can, to a certain extent, determine who owns a work of art but it is the art connoisseurs and scientists who will determine what you actually own. 
Within this fascinating field of study a key issue is the perception of a widening gulf in the area of authentication research between advancing scientific methods and connoisseurs who still tend to defer to the trained eye as final arbiter.... 
These tensions continue today as noted by Milko den Leeuw, painting conservator who founded the Atelier for Restoration & Research of Paintings (ARRS) in 1991 and Dr. Jane Sharp, Associated Professor of Art History at Rutgers University in their post on the AiA ( site dated 26/09/13 where they state that this tension ‘is mainly the result of a clash between the conservative opinion-based art industry and the latest offspring of the academic fields of forensic methodology and protocols. The confrontation…has been magnified in several lawsuits in Europe and America. This is a moment of extraordinary challenge in the history of authentication research’. While science and scientific methods have indeed become valuable tools within art, there is still an ongoing debate surrounding its application and validity. These debates often flair up when high profile cases grab the attention of the media. They, in turn, raise valid issues and generate debates that often shape discussions surrounding standards and issues of connoisseurship. The following case studies serve to introduce some of these tensions and debates. 
In the case of the Monet oil painting 'Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil' , the Art Access and Research (AA&R) Centre was asked to undertake technical imaging and paint analysis. These tests showed technical details consistent with Monet’s authorship, including an extensive palette and use of a charcoal under drawing. The process was the subject of a BBC TV programme (Fake and Fortune 2011) which heightened interest in the case. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, regarded as the court of final appeal for Monet, concluded it was a fake. And at time of writing, the painting is currently in the French courts. 
In the art world, Monet means money. However, in order to make millions, paintings thought to be by Monet must have been accepted into the official register; the catalogue raisonné – a publication which lists every acknowledged Monet in existence. The catalogue is published by the Wildenstein family of art collectors and art dealers....   established by Nathan Wildenstein in the 1870’s, a tailor who became an art dealer and it continues today. On their own website they state that their aim and mission is ‘promoting knowledge in and of French art’. It could be argued that as they work with an array of French artists, not just Monet, perhaps their knowledge is just a bit too general to have a definitive expertise on one, particular artist. The Wildenstein publishers of the catalogue raisonné, and therefore the arbiters of authentication in the Monet case, have so far refused to admit the work for reasons best known to themselves, despite the agreement of other scholars that this painting is genuine. Based on this example some leading UK art experts have called for a committee of scholars to replace the high-handed authoritarianism of the Wildenstein Institute. The absolute crux of this debate, is by what authority, legitimacy or indeed legal capacity do these art committees work from? Moreover, in a wider context, why as a society do we accept this? What’s the point of having ever advanced science and effective technology, that we are forever impressed by, if the evidence it produces is not taken as legitimate or indeed, worse, simply ignored. Who has the authority over the other? And who decides that? Who is in the eyes of the law is the definitive expert? 
SCIENCE YES, CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ YES Degas – Blue Dancer This was the case of a Degas painting entitled the ‘Blue Dancer’. This had been declared a fake in the 1950s by a leading Degas expert. The turmoil of World War II served as the perfect distraction for creating art forgeries, and doubts regarding the authenticity of “Blue Dancer” came from the lack of detail in the dancer’s face, the informality of her pose, and the brushwork on the heads of the double bass that rise up in the foreground in front of the dancer. Later still Professor Theodore Reff, an expert on Degas from Columbia University in New York, had twice been asked by Christie’s, the auctioneer, to examine the piece and twice decided it was not genuine. The painting, owned by Patrick Rice, was sent to an art forensics lab to examine the pigments. Titanium in the white could have indicated a forgery, as the metal was only used in paint after Degas’s death. Favourably, however, the main elements were found to be lead. A ballerina also recreated the painted dancer’s pose, resulting in an almost exact replica of her raised first position arms. Through these findings, the “Blue Dancer” regained Degas status and was accepted into the Degas raisonné, not the Wildenstein Institute I hasten to add who do not include Degas in their repertoire, but the one by Brame, Philippe, Reiff, et all raising its value from a diminished couple of hundred pounds to about £500,000 ($813,000). Again, why do some custodians of certain catalogue raisonnés appear more open to scientific evidence than others?
MARC CHAGALL – SPOT THE DIFFERENCE? The previous examples help to illustrate how science and connoisseurship can arrive at different conclusions over authenticity while also highlighting how scientific evidence is received and acted upon. It is interesting to note, however, that equally heated debates can still be aroused when science and connoisseurship appear to reach similar conclusions over authenticity. And this was the case with a disputed painting of a nude purportedly painted by Marc Chagall in 1909/10. 
SCIENCE AND CONNOISSEURSHIP IN HARMONY However, after in depth research on the painting’s provenance and scientific testing, The Reclining Nude 1909-1910 was found to be fake. Although painted in gouache, which Chagall frequently used, the pigments of the paint were dated to be a lot later than 1909 or 1910 and its first owner, the dancer ‘Kavarska’, could not be traced either. This picture was then sent to the Chagall Committee in Paris, led by the artist’s granddaughters, who confirmed the painting was not genuine. They stated it was purely an imitation of the authentic Reclining Nude (1911) by Chagall. As a result they demanded, under French law, that it be seized and destroyed, an extremely rare occurrence in the art world. And to date at time of writing and to the best of my knowledge the painting has yet to be destroyed. 
In the case of the Chagall painting Professor Robin Clark, from UCL, (University College London) has pointed out that this Ramon Microscopy technique, used to determine it was a fake, had been known to Sotheby’s Auction House since 1992 so the painting could, in theory, have been exposed as a fake any time in the last 20 years. In the event, the confirmation that it was a fake took place in his lab in July 2013 in the presence of its owners. This showed that at least two of the key pigments used were dated to the late 1930s long after the supposed date of 1909-10. 
The publicity that this case generated prompted Robin Clark to write in a leading UK national newspaper, The Telegraph, questioning the relationship between art and science and expressing particular concern over the art world’s failures to heed the testimony of available scientific techniques. He also suggested that art historians should be encouraged to read science journals so they are informed about “significant developments in science as applied to arts”. 
In part, his pleas could be seen as reasonable. Auctioneers can only submit works for technical analysis with the owner’s permission. With the possibility that these tests could then disqualify the painting as genuine it is not surprising that many owners will not give this permission. Another key issue concerns art dealers. When dealers buy at auction and then restore or analyse a work, they are not required by law, when selling works, to disclose which, if any tests, had been carried out. That said some have begun to question how these scientific methods are being used and applied. 
Writing on the artwatch UK blog in March 2014, for instance, Michael Daley acknowledged that while Raman microscopy could certainly disprove the claimed date of the fake Chagall, it seriously misleads the public when used to present speculative and digitally manipulated reconstructions supposedly showing art in its original condition. He cites, for instance, the example of a project to restore a set of faded paintings by Mark Rothko, that were painted for the dining room of the Holyoke Centre, built by Harvard University in 1966. After just 15 years, however, they had faded so badly that they were consigned to a darkened basement for their own protection. Worse still the photos that were taken of them when new had also faded. As these photos are largely the basis for the restoration project, Daley concludes that, ‘however well intentioned the project and its scientific methodology is, it will only ever produce a varying yet, ultimately false, version of the original. There are just so many variables. 
When researching these case studies for this paper I was struck by the differences and issues each one brought to the fore. The role of connoisseurs’, competing interests within the art market, the trained eye supporting or disagreeing with science, lack of regulation etc. It’s not surprising then that Nicholas Eastaugh, a leading independent scientist (of Art Access and Research Centre), described the present climate as being both without standards and “totally unregulated. It’s a Wild West.”... 
LESSONS FROM THE CASE STUDIES Some of these high profile cases have helped to expose the absurdity of the art market, where paintings, ostensibly by famous artists, are traded almost always as speculative investments. It is not the aesthetic value of a painting which decides whether it is worth millions, but the question of whether it was produced by a known and fashionable artist. Like any free market, the art market, is based on confidence or arguably over confidence. How confident people are about a certain painting or art institute and the people who write the raisonnnés, to some extent is very similar to that of the financial market. Science, it could be suggested, has more of a foothold in the lesser valuable works of art where there are perhaps no ‘go to’ art committees or art experts. Its obviously easier for an auction house or owner if there’s a ‘go to’ art institute for one particular artist, it is more convenient and arguably cheaper if scientific tests are not seen as appropriate. There is some optimism however, that we are seeing a bridging of the gap. One good example of this is The Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association which was founded in 1994. It serves the interests of scholars and others engaged in the catalogue raisonné process. Members typically research a single artist’s body of work to establish a reliable list of authentic works, their chronology, and history (usually including provenance, bibliographic, and exhibition histories). Members include patrons, collectors, art dealers, attorneys, and software designers. Increasingly they are publishing Catalogue Raisonnés online to make accessing them easier and more widely available. This then encourages greater debate and perhaps transparency in the area of authentication.

June 26, 2014

ARCA '14 Conference, Panel VIII: Smart Collecting and Connoisseurship and When Art is Stolen

Panel VIII: Smart Collecting and Connoisseurship and When Art is Stolen

What’s wrong with this picture? Standards and issues of connoisseurship
Tanya Pia Starrett, MA HONS LLB, University of Glasgow

Crossborder Collecting in the XXI Century: Comparative Law Issues
Massimo Sterpi, Avvocato
Partner, Studio Legale Jacobacci & Associati 

Bicycles vs. Rembrandt
Martin Finkelnberg
Head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit

National Criminal Intelligence Division, The Netherlands

November 30, 2013

Is it a Pollack? New York Times Journalist Patricia Cohen looks at the case between two women and a painting; a few professionals weigh in

From the New York Times: Is this a Pollack?
In "A Real Pollock? On This, Art and Science Collide" by Patricia Cohen for the New York Times (Nov. 24), the argument between Jackson Pollack's widow Lee Krasner and his lover Ruth Kligman is examined in the authentication of a 'small painting with swirls and splotches of red, black, and silver'.
Until her death, in 2010, Ms. Kligman, herself an artist, insisted the painting was a love letter to her created by Pollock in the summer of 1956, just weeks before he died in a car crash. But the painting was rejected by an expert panel set up to authenticate and catalog all of Pollock’s works by a foundation established by Ms. Krasner. This month, it seemed the dispute that outlived both women might finally be settled. Ms. Kligman’s estate announced that forensic tests — comparing samples from the loafers Pollock died in, his rugs and his backyard — had linked the painting with Pollock and his home. But instead of resolving one dispute, the findings only reignited another, one that pits traditional ways of determining whether a work is genuine against newer technologies. 
On one side stands Francis V. O’Connor, a stately Old World-style connoisseur with a Vandyke beard and curled mustache, who believes erudition and a practiced eye are essential to judging authenticity. Mr. O’Connor, a co-editor of the definitive Pollock catalog and a member of the now-disbanded Pollock-Krasner Foundation authentication committee, said “Red, Black and Silver” does not look like a Pollock. “I don’t think there’s a Pollock expert in world that would look at that painting and agree it was a Pollock,” Mr. O’Connor said at a symposium this month.
On the other side is Nicholas D. K. Petraco, a retired New York City detective and forensics specialist who examined the painting at the request of the Kligman estate. Approaching the canvas board as if it were a body at a crime scene, Mr. Petraco said he had no doubt the painting was made at the Pollock house and is linked to Pollock. “I’ve had cases with less materials than this where people are spending 25 to 30 years in jail,” he said.
As technology advances, the art world has turned to microscopic analysis and pigment testing to buttress — or challenge — the judgments of a tiny club of experts whose opinions have long been treated as law. This pursuit of scientific validation has only deepened as art historians and institutions like the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which shut down its authentication board in 1996, retreat from certifying art for fear of being sued. But science has its limits. Paint or paper may help establish the date of a work, while hair and fibers can help pinpoint where it was made. A work’s provenance must also be verified. Still, connoisseurs — as well as most auction houses who rely on them — maintain that true authorship cannot be established without an expert evaluation of the composition and individual strokes that reveal an artist’s “signature.” In this case, the difference of opinion could be worth millions. Unauthenticated, “Red, Black and Silver” would be listed as “attributed to Pollock” and carry an estimate of no more than $50,000, said Patricia G. Hambrecht, chief business development officer at Phillips auction house, where the painting is consigned. If judged a Pollock, the painting’s estimated value would soar to seven figures, she said.
Ms. Kligman’s account of the painting dates to the summer of 1956 when she was 26 and living in Pollock’s house in East Hampton, N.Y., after Krasner, having caught the lovers together, sailed for Europe. Pollock was in an alcoholic tailspin and hadn’t painted in two years. As Ms. Kligman detailed in a new introduction to the 1999 edition of her memoir, “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” the artist was on the lawn when she brought him his paint and the sticks he used. After he finished, he said, “Here’s your painting, your very own Pollock.” A friend of Ms. Kligman’s, Bette Waldo Benedict, has said Ms. Kligman told her the same story at the time.
Art forensics have primarily concentrated on what a painting is made of. But Mr. Petraco, who has decades of experience with the New York Police Department crime lab and is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at what the painting contained: the dust, hairs, fibers or other detritus that might have fallen on the surface and under the paint. Because Mr. Petraco, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry, has more experience analyzing red blood than red paint, he decided to perfect his technique for removing materials without damaging the painting by making some Pollock-like drip paintings in his backyard in Massapequa Park, on Long Island. (It’s tougher than it looks, he confessed.) Despite what one sees on television crime shows, hairs and threads cannot be traced to a specific individual or sweater, Mr. Petraco said. What builds a forensic case is not any single piece of evidence but a combination of consistent factors. In this case, Mr. Petraco said the clincher was discovering a polar bear hair, a rare find in a country that has banned the import of polar bear products for more than 40 years. “Is there a polar bear in this story?” Mr. Petraco wondered. There was. A polar bear rug that had adorned the living room floor in 1956 was still in the East Hampton attic.
Colette Loll, a private fraud investigator who worked on the case, said she had no preset agenda. “I was looking to poke holes,” she said but “fraud just wasn’t supported.” Both she and Mr. Petraco said they had donated their services to the estate. Ms. Loll said the case presented “a real opportunity to shift the paradigm away from the dictatorship of the connoisseur, where only one or two people who sit on their thrones can decide what is and what is not an authentic painting.
Mr. O’Connor, who is widely viewed as one of the top authorities on Pollock, said art forensics are valuable, but in this case he found the results “redundant and essentially irrelevant.” The painting may have been made in Pollock’s yard but that doesn’t mean it was made by Pollock’s hand. He did not speculate by whose hand it might have been. To Mr. O’Connor, connoisseurship is just as rigorous as forensics. Its methods, he acknowledged, “can seem mysterious, if not laughable, to the lay person.” But the connoisseur, he said, has “absorbed into visual memory the artist’s characteristic form — his shapes, compositional devices, linear rhythms, typical colors” and handling of paint well enough to detect a fake. In “Red, Black and Silver,” a silver wash covers the canvas and a black ovoid shape near the center serves as a focal point. No other Pollock has either of those characteristics, he said. In 1995, the authentication board offered to designate Ms. Kligman’s painting as a problematic work, which meant that if other scholars, with further study, labeled the work as authentic, the board would not object. But Ms. Kligman rejected that qualification. In Mr. O’Connor’s view, “the Kligman work is in limbo with respect to authenticity.” Whether it remains that way is an open question: After all, precisely what happened between two people, now dead, who were alone on a summer afternoon in an East Hampton yard 57 years ago may ultimately be beyond the ken of science or connoisseurship.
ARCAblog found three professionals on Linked In who offered opinions on this issue of connoisseurship versus forensics and the recent Pollock case.

Dr. John Daab, a Certified Fraud Examiner specializing in art and forgery research, posted the question on Linked In: "Connoisseurship v. forensics and the recent Pollock case: Isn’t time to take the mystery and politics out of authentication?" He offered this perspective here:
The recent Pollock work given a thumbs down by a so called Pollock expert was no more than a magic trick smoothed over by an assemblage of gibberish seemingly portrayed as scholarly analysis. The connoisseur expert used facts and scientific verbiage to drive his conclusions but the science (Chaos Theory) was unrelated to the subject matter and has been challenged by other scientists as bogus when related to Pollock’s works. The facts supporting the expert call consisted of a recent movie about Pollock and not a well carried out investigation based on acceptable methodologies, replicable, and verifiable by others. The connoisseur Pollock expert even got some of his facts wrong regarding forensic experts. Forensic experts are deemed expert by the Judge in a particular case, and their expertise can be jettisoned at any time during a trial via an In Limine challenge. Further, forensic graphology is not considered to be field of expertise in a court of law, whereas Questioned Document Examination and Examiners are. Yes the world of connoisseur expertise is mysterious and those of us involved in forensic examination of fine art raise the question of why now with all our advanced technology and empirical processing are we still using hocus pocus to authenticate? (The Knoedler gallery case with 60 bad calls by 20 experts demonstrates how bad the problem really is.) What seems to be happening is that the world of the connoisseurship is undergoing a paradigm shift. Just as we found that the world did not end at the horizon we are now finding that the world of connoisseurship is unraveling due to its subjective and intuitive nature. The solipsistic nature of connoisseurship coated with gobbledygook and sleight of hand magic is under siege with its cloak of scholarly analysis slowly dematerializing.
Toby Bull, Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force and Art Risk Security Consultant at TrackArt, wrote:
Good article. As a 20+ year policeman with a CID background, who holds both a Fine Arts degree & an Art Authentication (covering Forensics) qualification, I took up this very same topic when I presented a paper at The World Congress of Forensics back in 2011 titled, "Connoisseurship versus Science or Connoisseurship plus Science -- Methods in Art Authentication". My conclusion was that, generally, there is too much dismissal of the value science can bring and that it should very much be a case of science supporting the experts' eyes -- but that's just a humble copper's point of view.
It's a common-enough problem (the 'snobbery' of the connoisseur & dismissal of what scientific testing can bring to the table) , and was the case here in HK too - certainly 10+ years ago - with regard to tests on Chinese antiquities / ceramics, but slowly the positives of what - and just how easily - science can detect a fake has been gaining ground, with the best dealers now taking this on board. The number of fakes being sold are still legion, with many dealers knowingly putting fakes out there into the local market, exploiting the ignorance of the general one-off buyer. It's still a case of knowing which dealer one can trust (ones who don't knowingly peddle fakes) of whom there are some and yes, ultimately, for the collector: Caveat Emptor. TrackArt can and does operate within this minefield, with its education seminars being just one 'weapon' in its arsenal against the trade in fakes.
Dennis Baltuskonis, Owner of Art Conservation Services, responded to Dr. Daab's question:
The short answer to your question eliminate the mystery etc? Yes. But replace it with what? I propose a scoring system. E.g. Give "science" a score of 50 points. And Connoisseurs 50 points. On any single object let the experts weigh in and "score" said object. Take the average score from each side ADD them together for the final point score. Then let the buyer beware. Obviously a 100 point score "indicates" a general consensus that experts from both sides "agree/concer" and said object is "AUTHENTIC" (as most people accept that word). Like a bottle of wine rated 94 it doesn't necessarily mean that the end user will agree. Such a scoring system also leaves open the possibility that new evidence might arise which would alter the SCORE. Each "side" can create their own guidelines upon which any SCORE by any "expert" is acceptable. An independent panel might be formed to "consider" each score, etc. etc. It is possible to remove the decision from the realm of politics and special interests. This is one idea. What is yours?

February 20, 2011

The Detroit Institute of Arts Posts #6 Video on YouTube for "Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries" about a painting by Frans Pourbus the Younger

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin
(Right: Photo of Wimpole Hall in 1880)

The Detroit Institute of Arts posted its 6th video on Youtube of the series "Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries." The director of DIA, Graham W. J. Beal, tells of how the museum recognized the beauty and workmanship of a 17th century painting, cleaned it up in the conservation lab, and then had it identified by the Louvre's former director Pierre Rosenberg who told the DIA officials, "I didn't know you had a Franz Pourbus". You can watch the video here.

Pierre Rosenberg, the director of the Louvre between 1994 and 2001, specialized in 17th and 18th century paintings.

Frans Pourbus the Younger (Netherlandish, 1569-1622) painted "A Man" in 1621 when the artist was 52 years old and a year before his death a year later in Paris. The oil on canvas is 31 7/2 x 25 7/8 inches (81.0 x 657.7 cm) and was a gift to the DIA by James E. Scripps. The painting had formerly been owned by the Earl of Hardwicke at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire and sold at auction on June 30, 1888 To G. Smith. A year later, it was given by Mr. Scripps to the Detroit Museum of Arts.

James Edmund Scripps, the American publisher and philanthropist, founded The Detroit News and was the brother of Ellen Browning Scripps who founded Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla and Scripps College in Claremont, CA.

February 9, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Essayist Simon Cole on Connoisseurship

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

In one of ARCA’s three scholarly responses to David Grann’s “The Mark of a Masterpiece,” published in The New Yorker in July 2010, Simon A. Cole penned an editorial essay, “Connoisseurship All the Way Down: Art Authentication, Forgery, Fingerprint Identification, Expert Knowledge” in the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Fall 2010).

Simon A. Cole is Associate Professor & Chair of the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Harvard University Press, 2001) and Truth Machine: The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting (University of Chicago Press, 2008, with Michael Lynch, Ruth McNally & Kathleen Jourdan). His work has been published in numerous criminology journals, Art Journal, and Suspect (MIT Press, 2005), the 10th issue of the design award winning series Alphabet City. He is co-editor of the journal Theoretical Criminology.

ARCA blog: Professor Cole, if you were given a Caravaggio painting to authenticate, would you trust an art historian or a forensic art expert? Would your preference for the type of expert change if the painting was a 20th century Van Gogh or a 21st century Jackson Pollock?
Professor Cole: I don’t think the point I was making would change based on the period of the painting. But the point I was making was that we can’t really know whom to trust! Certainly, there is an appeal to thinking “science” is preferable to “I know it when I see it” connoisseurship. But, there’s also an appeal to thinking that only an art historian can evaluate all the evidence in all its complexity. And, much of forensic science turns out to essentially be “I know it when I see it” as well (which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong).
ARCA blog: In your essay, you compare art “connoisseurship” with the art – not the science – of identifying fingerprints. Would you have the same level of doubt about the authenticity of a painting’s creator based on the identification of a fingerprint as you would the guilt or innocent of a murderer identified by a “fingerprint expert”?
Professor Cole: Yes! In both cases, the fingerprint attribution would be a valuable piece of evidence. But one would also have to consider the possibility that the attribution is erroneous, which it could be due to a variety of causes (such as fraud, unintentional error, and the possibility of another individuals with very similar friction ridge detail). One would then have to consider this evidence in conjunction with all the other relevant evidence.
To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.

February 7, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Editor-in-Chief and Columnist Noah Charney on "Lessons from the History of Art Crime

Photo by Urska Charney

In his column, "Lessons from the History of Art Crime", Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney examines the methods of authentication under the title "The Art World Wants to Be Deceived: Issues in Authentication and Inauthentication" in the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Professor Charney writes about the three ways to authenticate art: connoisseurship, scientific analysis, and provenance. Although connoisseurship used to be the primary method of authenticating art, Charney writes, the new phenomenon of scientific analysis can be used by shade characters in shining armor. Provenance, the documented history of an object, has been on the rise in the past two decades but it relies on historical documents that rarely survive intact over the centuries. In the end, Charney recommends some combination of scientific analysis and provenance provides the strongest argument for authenticity, although the art world still relies on expertise which is still unregulated.

Noah Charney is the Founder and President of ARCA. Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, he is currently Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome. He is the editor of ARCA's first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009).

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.