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Authentication of a work of art. What is it?

“Authentic of a work of art? What is it?” Today I will try to answer the question of the century in the world of art, especially contemporary. What is the authenticity of a work of art? Many collector friends find themselves buying works at the fair, in the gallery or at auction or even directly from the artists and having to personally request the issue of this document.

But let’s find out what it is and why it is important to own it together with the work as if it were an integral part of it.

Authentication of a work of art. What is it for?

The main purpose of the authentication is to ensure that the work is original. A unique piece made by the artist who signed it. Having worked for many years in an artist archive, I would say that one of our main activities, together with the collaboration with museums in organizing exhibitions, was certainly that of identifying fakes and issuing authentications and archival certificates.

In fact, if the purchased work was created by a living artist, it is essential to have the authenticity done by the artist himself. Or ask the gallery from which it was bought to act as an intermediary. But in this case the authentication must absolutely be signed by the artist.

In the event that the work does not have an authentic original and the artist is no longer alive but you are sure of the originality and authenticity of the work itself, you must contact an expert whose competence is usually recognized by the heirs. of the artist. This is the case, for example, of works given away, inherited or acquired by artists who are no longer alive. Only one authority should be dealt with for each artist. A nationally and internationally recognized authority. Better if organized in the form of an archive, foundation or art gallery authorized to issue official expertise on the originality of the work.

Authentication of a work of art. What is it?

In many cases the authentication consists of an image printed on photographic paper of the front of the work. On the back of this image the artist writes a short caption which for correctness should report in full: the title, the year of realization, the technique, the materials and additional comments and notes on the state of the work or on the installation. And then the artist’s signature writing a standard sentence such as: “I XY recognize this my work as authentic”. 

In the case of unique sculptures, therefore, with a realization of less than 9 pieces or multiples or prints, an authentication document should be created for each example by photographing the work and reporting the number of the piece on the back in the caption.

The practice of authenticating may seem, especially at the beginning of an artist’s career, to be only a marginal action, but I assure you that it is not. And at the same time, for a collector who wishes to maintain the value of his works, it may seem like just one more thought, a document to be requested and kept. Also in this case I assure you that this is not the case: if at a later time you want to eventually sell the work, this document will be essential to ascertain its authenticity and maintain its value. 

Authentication of a work of art. The problem of fakes

The value of an artist’s works of art on the market as I explained in my video on How to calculate the price of a work of art is also conditioned by the presence of fakes. The problem of fakes in fact, and of the legitimacy or not of authenticity, remains a much debated issue in the world of art. All the protagonists of the art system should know the market but above all the common laws and the laws of the country in which the works are sold or purchased.

The issuance of the authentication or of an accompanying certificate of the work is widespread and mandatory by law in some countries such as Italy. The certificate of authenticity or simply Authenticity is in fact present in the Code of Cultural Heritage in Article 64:

Anyone who carries out the activity of sales to the public, of exhibition for commercial purposes or of intermediation aimed at the sale of works of painting, sculpture, of graphics, or objects of antiquity or of historical or archaeological interest, or in any case usually sells the works or objects themselves, has the obligation to deliver to the buyer the documentation certifying their authenticity or at least the probable attribution and the provenance of the works themselves; or, failing that, to issue, in the manner prescribed by the legislative and regulatory provisions on administrative documentation, a declaration containing all available information on the authenticity or probable attribution and origin. This declaration, where possible in relation to the nature of the work or object, is affixed to a photographic copy of the same.

This kind of laws obviously arise from the need to eliminate the problem of counterfeiting works of art.

The importance of the documents of the work

In the case of the artist, the authentication is not the only document that must be kept together with the work. It may seem like an exaggeration but if you think of your works as great masterpieces you must not only create, preserve and promote them but from the very beginning keep the documents that will tell their story in the future. 

In the case of the collector, on the other hand, documents such as the purchase invoice from the artist, the gallery or the auction house is certainly another document to be kept in order to demonstrate the lawful purchase by a third party and preserve the history and the value of the work. 

You may happen to hear about not only Authentication but also about Archiving Certificate. Some archives and foundations or artists consider the two documents to be different and issue one free of charge – the authentication -, the other upon payment of a contribution for archive research – the archival certificate.

In any case, the authentication is the obligatory and most widespread document, while the certificate at the discretion of the archive can be considered the document necessary to ensure that the work is registered in the General Catalog or reasoned by the artist.

Authentication of a work of art. The price of the work

As I said in my video on the price of the work, the definition of the market price is certainly influenced by several factors:

  • the existence of the artist
  • , the presence of an authentic reliable archiving 
  • the publication in the artist’s general or reasoned catalog 
  • the presence on the market of verified fakes

You can therefore understand how the issuance and conservation of a complete document such as authentication is fundamental for the history of the work and for the verification of authenticity therefore for its value. 

The ideal would be to have a single and repeatable official document that can be recognized nationally and internationally in such a way as to create a standard. There are some archiving software that allow artists not only to create their own database, but also to make the authentic. However, these are not always accessible to everyone and in any case the standard varies slightly. 

But if you are an artist and you need a template to start issuing the authentications of your works, you can download a pdf I made for you to print. 

And finally, here are some Italian examples of artist archives that issue authentic and archival certificates

If you also want to tell me about your adventures with authentications, I’m always curious. And I too would have many to tell both personal and friends. 

Until next time!!

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