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RESEARCH PROJECTS

Analysis of the Palette of Infamous Forger Elmyr de Hory

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Art Fraud Insights partner Jennifer L. Mass, Ph.D. of Scienctific Analysis for Fine Art, LLC, is conducting elemental, molecular, and microscopic analysis of the paint on the palette of Elmyr de Hory, found in his studio at the time of his death.

The first of its kind to be conducted on de Hory’s materials and output, this research aims to identify the chemical and structural properties of the forger’s palette and to distinguish it from those of Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani –two iconic artists whose style he was famous for forging. The research will be conducted in conjunction with Madeline Corona, M.S in Art Conversation candidate at University of Delaware, and utilize an array of techniques including ultraviolet and visible cross-section microscopy, x-ray fluorescence, infrared spectroscopy, micro-raman spectroscopy, and x-ray diffraction.

The research will be presented as part of Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes, opening in Spring 2017 at Winterthur Museum. These critical insights into de Hory’s techniques help us build the art historical dossier of this enigmatic figure – and, by proxy, the artists he was so skilled at copying.

 

Creation of an Algorithm to Predict Fraud in the Online Marketplace

This research has grown out of conclusions drawn during the execution of a proactive anti-fraud initiative in the online marketplace. Art Fraud Insights first identified the types of art works that are most vulnerable to fraud, paying attention to particular mediums, price points and artists. Once these segments were identified, a systematic methodology of review was developed. AFI then compiled a large data set of known or suspected faked and forged art works listed for sale in the online marketplace. The data was used to inform an algorithm that determines the probability that a future auction listing will be fraudulent. With a trained team of art historians and art fraud researchers, Art Fraud Insights reviewed tens of thousands of listings and was able to get a clear sense of the difference between supported authenticity and suspected authenticity. The research team was able to recognize this difference based in part on a dealer or seller’s definition of what constitutes acceptable documentation to support the claim of ‘original’ or ‘authentic.’

The goal of this ongoing research is to capture trends in fraudulent online art sales based upon information contained in the listing. These key indicators, combined with the qualitative information construed from the reviewer and advanced image recognition and documentation review, inform a predictive model. This model, which continues to grow and evolve, can then be used to create a baseline against which art works sold online are rated to predict the likelihood of their being suspect. This growing predictive model could be used to immediately flag listings for removal from the site and/or to alert law enforcement of seller activity. It could serve as a fraud prevention filter for the online marketplace in the near future. This may be the first initiative of its kind, but it is hoped that a culture of creating solutions to online fraud will grow and strengthen. For a proactive anti-fraud initiative to be successful in this online sector, key government stakeholders, law enforcement and representatives from global asset management teams among all top online retailers need to be engaged. A reactive case-by-case response from law enforcement agents and academia is no longer effective or practical. The systemic problems faced today in the art marketplace are outgrowths of an art world and market structure that no longer exist. The complexity of today’s situation requires a combination of innovative technology and data analysis, and cooperation across disciplines and industry leaders. We believe our research in the online marketplace represents an important step toward a healthier, more transparent and productive art marketplace.

 

Fake Provenance: Protecting The Art Market and The Art Historical Record Against Misleading Narrative

Co-authored by Colette Loll and Christa Roodt, 2018, University of Glasgow.

Visual analysis appears alongside historical analysis and scientific analysis in models of authenticity propounded by scholars who think it necessary to put judgement by expert eye into its proper perspective. A predominant mode of enquiry it may be, but not even the most expert eye can untie the knots caused by conflicts of interest in the art market. Scientific tests can provide evidence that a work of art is a fake or indicate the absence of deception, but no test can absolutely prove authenticity. Science cannot stop forgers and fraudsters from learning faster than many in the scientific community. Against this backdrop, a compelling argument can be made that the only way in which authentication in art can keep abreast of the growing proficiency of forgers and fraudsters in the 21st century is to track provenance and perform crosschecks of evidence on provenance. Provenance is the ownership record of a work of art or cultural item, explaining the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of its transfer, from the moment of its creation or discovery until the present.

This project prioritizes the Information Age where provenance research relies increasingly on digital resources and infrastructure. The double-barreled question at its core is: ‘How do provenance researchers develop and tailor their approaches and methods to redress the harm done by fake provenance and misleading narrative? What evidence qualifies as worthwhile in the Information Age?’. As such, the project seeks to reframe the importance of provenance in establishing the authenticity of works of art, and in particular the types of evidence which can be prioritized for establishing provenance; and the ways in which research into provenance can be opened up to sellers, buyers, adjudicators and the wider art world. The hypothesis is that due diligence in art sales implies critical analysis of relevant technological advances; crosschecks that can help remove the harmful effects of the risk of dubious attribution; responses and evidence that neutralize the legal and ethical deficits prevailing in the practice of authentication and the attribution of cultural value.

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