Designing the antidote to counterfeit artworks

Paintings of veterans like M F Husain, S H Raza and Manjit Bawa are among the most-copied, often fetching high prices, thanks to clever imitation and circuiting of fakes, say experts.
Late legendary painter MF Hussain. (Photo | PTI)
Late legendary painter MF Hussain. (Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: Even as the demand for Indian art is growing, challenges like forgery, piracy, and absence of royalty for visual artists continue to plague the art market with works of art and their authenticity certificates falling prey to digital manipulation.

Paintings of veterans like M F Husain, S H Raza and Manjit Bawa are among the most-copied, often fetching high prices, thanks to clever imitation and circuiting of fakes, say experts.

While the fake art nexus runs deep enough to even deceive art experts and unsuspecting collectors, both seasoned and young, forgeries at exhibitions and auctions have been called out, including in India, in several instances in the past.

However, luck does not favour at all times and in such a scenario, there will be greater need for advanced technology that not just simplifies but automates complex art verification procedures, experts say.

According to Shruthi Issac, Director-Collection Museum Initiatives, The Savara Foundation for the Arts, when collecting modern Indian Art, the collector must first holistically evaluate the “rightness” of a work in question, based on scholarship of several previous works of the artist, which will familiarise and allow the collector to see the artist’s stylistic approach and manner of working with materials.

"Judging fakes and false attributions in the Indian arts is challenging," agrees Isaac. For her, hands-on experience has been the best teacher which taught her to "rely on connoisseurship, historical documentation, empirical data and scientific testing".

In an interview in 2014, the then chief of Fine Arts Experts Institute, Switzerland Yan Walther had said over 50 per cent of all art circulating in the global market was fake.

Experts say, things haven’t changed much since and the burgeoning fake art market is a cause of concern for all stakeholders.

To address the issue of protecting the unique identity of each artwork and ensuring there can be no replications, Indian art-tech organisation Jumbish has come up with JDAT (Jumbish Digital Authentication Tags), a NFC-based adhesive microchip for physical artworks, for which the company is taking pre-orders.

While NFC tags are available in a few other countries, Jumbish says it is a pioneering technology in India which will introduce a paradigm shift in the art market and eliminate the possibility of forging art, as there will only be one unique artwork with one tag that can be scanned.

A JDAT, priced at USD 10 each, provides sole authentication and provenance for collectors as it''s a flexible paper-like chip with a private and public key which when attached to the back of a canvas, automatically gives out information upon being scanned.

It also provides earnings to an artist upon the first sale and every resale after that. The data from JDAT is linked to the NFT (non-fungible tokens) and is maintained digitally over the secured blockchain.

As a Princeton University study pointed, "Authentication of paintings can be difficult, even for experienced art scholars. Quantitative features obtained through digital image analysis could potentially be helpful in identifying copies or forgeries."

And Jumbish aims to do exactly that -- "to enhance the visual art world by leveraging technology” -- by using IOT and blockchain-powered authentication tags that track artworks right from when they make market debut, the company said.

Sharing her story, visual artist Richa Navani said, "After years of perseverance and hard work, the artist succeeds in creating a genre of art. That includes an innumerable amount of time and resources spent on art practice over decades. Alas, an artist’s work gets copied, damaged, lost and whatnot!".

"My work was lost when it was sent for a show in Mumbai that got cancelled. The collector who took my artwork said it is with a friend and safe. The saga went on for two years but I never got back my work. The latest technology should be used for well documentation and ceasing the process of fake artworks," she said.

Globally, fake art has spread its roots deep, so much so that The Museé Terrus in France saw its collection cut by more than half when it was revealed that 82 of the museum''s 142 works were forgeries.

In another incident, during an exhibition in 2011 at Kolkata''s Government College of Art and Craft, 20 paintings attributed to Rabindranath Tagore were described as fake by art historians and critics.

Later, the former head of the college and an art dealer were charged with the crime.

To avoid such incidents, Jumbish provides authentication services for fine art (paintings, sculpture, murals), digital art (illustrations, graphics, animation, videos) and photography (both digital and printed photographs).

"Our platform will help the auction houses, galleries, museums, curators, art consultants, art appraisers, art lawyers to have a one-stop place to find the details of the artworks which is otherwise very difficult to obtain," Jumbish CEO Shankar Mridha told PTI.

The organisation also aims to regularise a stream of royalty income for artists as their artworks are resold and ownership changes.

Jumbish Chief Value Officer Bibhas Banerjee said, “Our platform ensures that existing buyers or collectors obtain more value for their money as the authenticity of the artworks is endorsed technologically. Artists and creators, on the other hand, can enjoy royalties which has been a less discussed subject in the world of visual arts and painting.”

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