The Economist | Fine art: Collectors, artists and lawyersCan we all agree this is bad litigation? It's a sad state of affairs if society can't enforce a contract that says "Party A agrees to tell Party B whether they believe artwork X is authentic, and party B agrees not to sue Party A if they don't like the answer."
Alas, plenty of other experts are now too scared of lawsuits to authenticate pictures, says Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics, a consultancy. Early this year the Andy Warhol Foundation dissolved its authentication board after spending $7m to fight a lawsuit from a disgruntled London collector. In September the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Keith Haring Foundation stopped authenticating works by the two late artists. Last year the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation dissolved its authentication committee rather than “jeopardise our health and well-being”, says Jack Cowart, its director. In the past five years insurance policies taken out by art authenticators have more than doubled at Hiscox, an insurer.
How will the art market adapt? China offers a clue. Art expertise in China often carries little weight because authenticators are thought to be in cahoots with a dealer or seller, says Shin-Yi Yang, a curator in Beijing. So living artists make more money, since they can personally assure buyers that a picture is not a fake, he says.Interesting. Can I propose another possible adaptation? Increased demand for digital works which can be signed using public-key cryptosystems.
Digital signatures aren't really my thing. (Hell, crypto isn't really my thing, but I'm trying to remedy that now.) But I think as long as an artist/their estate keeps their private key secret this should work well. It should even allow authentication of limited additions, which I'd guess is a problem with digital works currently. IIRC they're usually packaged with a physical certificate of authenticity from the artist, which is bound to be orders of magnitude easier to forge than either a traditional painting or a digitally-signed file.