Inserting DNA Into Art

BY Katrina Kufer / May 22 2017 / 12:34 PM

A new art fraud prevention technique comes to the fore

Inserting DNA Into Art
Image courtesy the artist
Eric Fischl. Barbeque. 1982. Oil on Canvas. 165 x 254 cm.

Institutions and galleries alike have suffered the consequences of convincing fakes – from Christie’s Botticelli debacle to Manhattan’s Knoedler Gallery closure. With confidence in subjective expertise not proving enough, especially alongside occasionally patchy provenance, “there is a deep freeze in authentications,” said Colette Loll of Art Fraud Insights to The New York Times.

Several years ago, an Eric Fischl work came up for auction in London that the artist had not actually made. This sparked Fischl’s personal championing of an authentication system that would permit artists to sign their works with traces of synthetic DNA. The bioengineered DNA would be specific to each work and include an encrypted link between the object and a database which would store the authenticating information, readable by anyone in the art industry through the use of a scanner.

The project has received $2 million of funding from art specialists ARIS Title Insurance Corporation, and is currently in the process of development at the Global Center for Innovation at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany), a centre recognised for its pioneering work in bioengineering, encryption and nanotechnology. It’s endgame? To figure out how to infuse works of art with molecules of lab-created DNA, a unique marker immune to tampering and/or recreation – "even sophisticated counterfeiters would leave microscopic forensic evidence” if they tried, claims Lawrence M. Shindell, chairman of ARIS.

Robert J Jones, president of SUNY Albany is confident artists will embrace this method of protecting their estates and legacies without compromising or damaging the artworks. It would also permit collectors, dealers and institutions to check DNA codes to see whether items had been stolen, and therefore proactively prevent resale. “We see it as a secure, safe and invisible solution that artists and owners can accept,” stated Shindell. “Our goal is to remove uncertainty from the market.”

At an estimated $150 per molecular DNA marker, a supposed three dozen international artists, archives, foundations and museums are signed up to test the technology, due out in the coming year.

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