Art-tech Could be Game-changing in Eliminating Art Forgery From Indian Art Market

artforgery - Sakshi Post

By Shankar Mridha

The Indian art market has no dearth of impressive art and artists, but the same is also true for art forgeries by con artists, who often manage to pass off cheap imitations for the price an original artwork would fetch. From pirated Picassos to cleverly-imitated Husains, Razas, Jamini Roys, and their contemporaries, the Indian art market has had its fair share of withdrawals of artworks from auctions and exhibitions after claims of them being fake.

The concept of art forgery and piracy is, however, older than we think. Selling and reselling of copied arts has continued from the early Renaissance till 1900s India, and still stares us in our faces as another generation of artists, collectors and art professionals are at risk of falling prey to this challenge. 

As per reports, the fake art ‘industry’ was valued at a massive $50 billion, and according to industry estimates before COVID, of the $200 billion spent worldwide on art every year, $6 billion was tainted by illicit activity. Just to cite one of the many art frauds, a British art forger was jailed for creating over 1,000 fake artworks including Souzas, Husains, and Razas, not too long ago. These artworks make their way to auctions, exhibitions and even collections, as was revealed during the investigation of diamantaire Nirav Modi’s art collection before COVID struck.

In 2020, impacted by the pandemic, the global art industry was valued at $50 billion. Several instances of exposed fake art have come to light even in pandemic.
Artworks keep disappearing and reappearing in the markets with ample forgers passing off fakes as original pieces while leaving collectors wondering how to value the artworks they buy. What’s not uncommon are fakes peddled with equally fake paperwork -- forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys, photographs showing the artists with their artworks and other documents -- referencing real people who work at real galleries.

While counterfeited art has been detected at exhibitions and auctions, often identified by the artists themselves, there is a strong need to create systems for art authentication & provenance management. While the demand for art authenticators and scientific art testing is increasing, there are simpler ways to safeguard the works of all upcoming and established artists against the evil of art forgery. After all, one could never say which artist next becomes highly-collected and also highly-forged!

Unlike a few years back, when there were few ways of truly knowing if the artwork hanging in your living room was made in an artist’s studio or a forger’s workshop, new technology-enabled solutions now allow us to register an artwork’s provenance and authenticity right as it leaves the artist’s hands in the first sale. 

Replacing a physical paper certificate of authenticity -- which always runs a risk of being stolen, lost, destroyed, or worse, copied itself -- are microchips pioneered in India by Jumbish. Called the JDAT, this is a tamper-proof tag that affixes itself at the back or bottom of the original artwork, and links to its provenance details on an NFT platform.
Art authentication and provenance through the Internet of things (IoT) and Blockchain in the digital age can extensively make an impact in the art world. Its safest way to secure an artwork that can stand the test of time is by tying a physical work of art to a digital ledger. Securing artworks via a combination of NFC and NFT leaves no room for doubt about the originality and provenance of a work in the market, as it will always have a digital record that speaks for itself.

Evolution of IoT and Blockchain helps control forgeries in physical arts while NFTs or non-fungible tokens help maintain the authenticity of the digital artworks. Artists simply have to attach the chip on the artwork and sign up for authentication on the NFT platform.

Technology has made life simpler in every sphere, and it’s time the art world welcomes it in as well. Easily applied to artworks, the microchip requires no battery and remains affixed to the artwork indefinitely if not tried to remove forcefully. The chip could be read by any phone which supports tap payments. Upon tapping the phone near the artwork, the entire purchase history of the artwork over the years will be accessible.  The best thing about this chip? It costs a fraction of what an art authenticator would charge!

The combination of IoT and NFT can resolve innumerable issues of the art market earning the much-needed trust that would help art investors, art lovers, or collectors and aspiring investors who are hesitant to invest, for there is little trust owing to fake art and inaccurate valuing of artworks. 

Art authentication enabled by technology not just helps the ecosystem operate in transparency and good faith, but also helps in securing the economics of art for upcoming and established artists. It also helps to relook at art as an instrument of investment, cutting out any element of deception, directly influencing the art market’s future expansion.

The author is CEO of Pune-based art-tech organisation Jumbish.

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