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AUTHENTICATION
IN THE ART WORLD
by Todd Camplin

Authentication has been in the news lately with artists that skyrocketed into fame and then
they start to edit their past, authenticating one image and rejecting another. Take the case
of Peter Doig, he believes he didn’t make an artwork and another person claims he did. So,
the artwork has now been determined to be inauthentic by the courts. I, like other artists,
have just thrown pieces in the trash that were just bad or experimental pieces that didn’t
go anywhere. It is not unheard of for an artist to even ask someone to throw a piece out
they gave a friend or family member. Foundations representing artists’ estates have also
been known to be aggressive in determining authentic pieces and dismissing others.
Historians, auction houses, and appraisers have all been caught up in the authenticating
game. The problem arises when the client doesn’t like the answer to research and then
takes legal action. This, of course, squashed people’s willingness to authenticate anything.
But, when artists play with the idea of authentication, that is where it gets fun.

UTA artist Benito Huerta’s 2015 piece titled Signature Painting, or British artist Gavin Turk’s
Unoriginal Signature drawings in the mid 1990’s seem to mock the idea of signature
having the authority. Most of the big name post-war artists stopped the practice of
signing the front, because the signature conflicted with what was going on in the
painting. Signing the work on the front broke the spell of the painting and into that
of the mythic artist. With a signature, the painting was not about the expression or
image, but rather about the story of the artist. Many Postmodern writers took up the
idea that artists as well as writers were attempting to make you forget the creator of
the work, but rather immerse yourself in their work. Of course, the fashion of signing
the front has not completely died, but most academically trained artists still follow
this tradition of signing the back. In fact, more professional artists create catalogs,
numbers or some other organizing system that helps authenticate pieces. However,
plenty of artists don’t bother.

Another artist that played with this idea of authentic art was Sol Lewitt.  105 wall
drawings and paintings have been recreated from his instructions by a team of
individuals at the MASS MoCA. These works were reproduced after his death, but
yet these are authentically his art. How is this possible, because he believed that
his art could be like sheet music. Follow the notes and you produce music in the
same way if you follow his instruction you make his art.

On the less interesting side of things, a great deal of fabricated artworks are being
produced for public art. Artists email their designs and a fabricator and engineer
work out the production and installation. Some artists want to meet the demand
for their work, so they produce work through a studio, rather than get their hands
dirty. Nothing wrong with it, however, filmmakers  give credit to all the people that
worked on the film. How is it that the conceptual artist is any better than the
filmmakers?

So, where does the drive for obtaining authentic art come from? And why do we
value this experience over an inauthentic art work. After all, many museum goers
don’t recognize the fakes from the real works. In the rare case, when an institution
reveals a fake, it affects the mystique of the work and people feel less connected.
Authentic experience of historical artworks is quite tricky and full of possible pitfalls.
Maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoy contemporary art so much. You have the
potential of shaking the person’s hand that made the art. You can’t get much more
authentic than the experience of someone living, breathing, and telling you about
what inspires them.
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Benito Huerta -  Signature Painting 2015