Left: Henri Matisse, “Odalisque in Red Pants” (1925); right: the fake version of the work that thieves substituted at Museum of Contemporary Art of Caracas (image via artdaily.com)

In the past several decades, the use of DNA technology has transformed the world of criminal justice. Now, thanks to the work of scientists, artists, curators, insurance experts, and lawyers at the i2M Standards initiative of the Global Center of Innovation at the University at Albany, similar DNA technology could be used to thwart art forgeries, the New York Times reported.

i2M Standards is in the process of developing synthetic DNA labels that will be added to the works of prominent artists, serving as a kind of fingerprint or serial number and offering proof of authenticity. The method could help ameliorate an age-old plague — experts say as much as half of the international art market could be comprised of fakes.

The first phase of i2M Standards’ DNA tagging initiative is set to roll out early next year. Forty contemporary artists are on board, including Chuck Close, Michelene Thomas, and Eric Fischl, who has had his share of experience with forged works.

The labels will essentially be stickers with tiny wells containing samples of short DNA sequences — unrelated to the artists’ own DNA — adhered to the backs of artworks. They’ll be invisible to viewers and won’t damage or otherwise impact the art at all. Only i2M will know what the DNA sequences are, so while master art forgers may be able to make uncannily accurate replicas (remember when it took a Venezuelan museum two years to realize its Matisse was a fake?), they won’t be able to copy the hidden tags.

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Each embed would cost about $150, which could add up to a lot of money for museums and galleries looking to tag all the works in their collections. But the idea is that the process will ultimately save on the staggering costs related to art theft and authentication. So, art forgers, time to brush up on your synthetic biology skills.

Read more about i2M Standards here.

h/t New York TimesNPR

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

2 replies on “How DNA Technology Could Help Prevent Art Fraud”

  1. While forgery of such secured pieces will become a lot harder, it will still not be impossible. Any molecular biology lab can easily copy DNA, and while it’s certainly simpler if one knows at least a part of its sequence, copying the DNA used in that method should only take a few days if not less with common PCR technology. That said, a forger would need access to both the original to obtain a sample, and of course such a laboratory – or have enough money to buy the equipment, which anyone can order online.

  2. Wow this sounds like a great idea. Having a DNA fingerprint per se seems like it would be a great way to reduce the amount of forgeries. I for one do not know much about forgery and cannot image someone would go through the great lengths to fake DNA to forge but I should hope to be so famous someday that someone wants to! LOL. Again, I think it’s a great idea. Hopefully as they start to iplement they can try and find ways to reduce the cost.

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