Certificates of Authenticity: Asset or Scrap Paper?

In the uncertain and ever-changing world of the art market, it isn’t only the prices, trends and names that need constant checking, verification and affirmance. Questions of origins, genuineness and authenticity are, and should be raised whenever there is even a single thread of doubt about an art piece. How important and influential is a certificate of authenticity, how difficult is it to attain the document, and in the end, how exactly accurate can it be?

As with almost all other products sold and purchased, a certain procedure of certification, verification and insurance is required. In the art market, a certificate of authenticity (CoA) is produced to ensure the proper functioning of the market and protect the buyers. However, a CoA is equally, or even more, important to art historians, curators and critics alike. This document proves the artwork’s genuineness and verifies its quality, origin, and ultimately, the price. A CoA can significantly influence the monetary value and status of an art piece in question. When issued by a credible source, this document can attribute a collectable value to the piece and add to the overall price.

In absence of accurate documentation for artworks dating far back into the past and antique pieces, it is the academic experts and connoisseurs that are called upon for help, assessment and advice. If possible, the most desired CoA comes from a living artist or an official representative of a living artist. Ideally, the best author of a CoA is the creator of the artwork. In other cases, it can be their publisher, dealer, agent, representative or someone who is an expert of the said style, artist and work, capable of recognizing the brush strokes, patterns and intricate details. Important information such as the medium, dimensions, date of creation, date of authentication, details about the authenticator and their relationship with the artist must be included in the CoA. When a certificate is requested after an artist’s death, their estate and/or foundations are contacted. If the asked parties have enough knowledge and connection with the artist’s work, they can provide a valid CoA. However, this document may be challenged by others who claim a greater and more intimate knowledge of the work in question. To mitigate these issues, many artist’s estates and foundations have recently established “authentication boards” which serve to this purpose specifically.

The steady growth of online sales have brought along a whole new level of doubt and fear regarding the originality and provenance of artwork. Fake CoAs have been circulating the market, and due to the lack of official bodies or legal authorities to fight these forged documents, it is up to the buyer to carefully inspect the CoA before identifying it as legitimate. One detail that should be noted straight away is that if the document provides assuming and non-defining information such as opinions, beliefs and vague implications of the authenticity, it is more than likely to be fake. A valid CoA must contain direct, specific and precise information and details about the artwork. The document is there to remove all doubt and reassure the buyer in the credibility of the piece. It is always better to do some more research and go the extra mile when checking for a real certificate of authenticity.

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