In Brief

How DNA Technology Could Help Prevent Art Fraud

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.

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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