Blockchain to the Rescue with DLT in Art Provenance
2018, the auctioning of an 8th Century B.C.E small bronze horse sculpture by Sotheby’s International was halted by the Ministry of Culture & Sports of Greece. The reason was cited as confusion related to the ownership history or provenance of the art piece. It was alleged that the sculpture might have been exported from Greece through illegal means. What ensued was a legal battle between the Multinational Corporation and the Greek government, as Sotheby’s was unable to sell the artifact due to shoddy provenance allegations and claimed a heavy loss.
So, it leaves little to guess the importance of art provenance, which is also one of the major issues in this industry. Lack of evidence corroborating the origin and ownership history can lead to depreciation of the art piece and even raise questions over its marketability.
That’s why art investors stress the provenance before buying a painting or a sculpture and carry out extensive research. Even then there are cases where the deal falls through or the investor ends up in a lawsuit over murky art ownerships.
Luckily, we are living in the Digital Era, where technology has a solution for every problem. In this case, the answer is in the blockchain. Apart from authenticating provenance, the distributed ledger technology is a great way counter forgeries, smuggling, and counterfeiting of art pieces.
But before we get to that, here’s a brief on art provenance for the understanding of the readers.
What is Art Provenance?
Every piece of art should have detailed documentation of origin and history of ownership. These credentials add to the value of the art piece. A well-documented provenance is the ultimate proof of the art’s genuineness. However, such traditional ways of documentation are no longer considered solid, as there are several ways to tamper with that. There have been cases where an inexperienced buyer was fed with concocted provenance to prove the authenticity of a forgery. That’s where blockchain technology comes to the rescue with its power of DLT.
How can Blockchain help in Art Provenance?
Blockchain stands on its key foundational characteristics of immutability, heightened security and distributed ledger technology. These unique properties have made it very interesting for people dealing with art and the ones investing in it as well. A painting or a sculpture is more than just a decorative piece adorning one’s house or office. It is a viable investment that loses its value if there is any flaw in the provenance. So, how can blockchain help?
Blockchain-based provenance helps in storing of information without the need to go through a third party mediator. It is a boon for budding or struggling artists because the process is cost-effective. The collectors can share transaction data while maintaining their anonymity. The immutability makes the documentation tamper-proof and also provides global real-time access. With such easy access to the art provenance, the transactions become instant and cost-effective. Other documents related to the art piece such as pictures, records on appraisals, restoration, etc. all are included as hashes and stored as metadata. It provides tamper-proof comprehensive documentation of the painting or sculpture to artists, collectors, investors and others involved in the art business.
How has Blockchain helped in Provenance so far?
Provenance is an important part of art preservation and acts as the identity proof of the work. The problem with the art industry is that there is an absence of a single database with details on relevant and famous art pieces. This is the main cause of art forgeries and concoction of false provenance. But with the help of blockchain, this age-old problem can be sorted and some groups are currently working on it.
The Codex Protocol : The Codex Protocol is a blockchain-backed decentralized open-source title registry for artworks and collectibles. It is a consortium that consists of well-known auction houses, art investors and others closely associated with the art industry. Codex Protocol does not restrict itself to just paintings and sculptures. It documents anything of artsy relevance such as jewelry, wine, vintage cars, etc. and provenance is the most important part of the process. Every item has extensive documented information related to its identity, origin, ownership, authenticity, and anything that adds to its value.
Verisart: Started in 2015, Verisart is a blockchain-based platform that certifies and verifies collectibles and artworks. They have been providing artists with authenticity certificates free of cost, allowing them to list their work in the ledger. Verisart includes museum certification standards, image recognition along with DLT to counter forgeries.
The use of blockchain technology for art authentication and provenance has no reason for alarm for the professionals who have been involved in the process till now. Technology does not eliminate old processes, it integrates creating a stronger more defined process that proves to be beneficial for all. The success of such an advanced system requires the artists, authenticators, dealers, collectors, and investors to come together. To conclude, Blockchain in provenance is more reformation than disruption of the art industry.