UK: When Art Meets Technology: An Interview With Intaglio Blockchain And Tagsmart

Last Updated: 12 July 2019
Article by Diana Wierbicki and Anna Farmer

At this year’s Masterpiece Art Fair in London, Diana Wierbicki, global head of art law, and Anna Farmer, a member of the commercial, intellectual property and technology team at global law firm Withersworldwide, are interviewing two representatives from companies that integrate both art and technology in their work. Steve Cooke is Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Tagsmart, the world’s first DNA tagged and certified artwork aggregation service pioneering trusted marketplaces for art, and James Garfinkel is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Intaglio Blockchain, which provides trusted Blockchains to record authenticity and provenance; only verified entities can record on the Intaglio Blockchain network. We asked both of them a few questions in advance of the panel discussion to get a better understanding of their companies.

Intaglio Blockchain – James Garfinkel

Q: How does an artist get their work on the Intaglio Blockchain? Can anyone do it?

For an artist – as well as a dealer, gallery, or auction house – you first must get credentials. These are similar background checks as those performed by banks and airlines – are you whom you say you are? Going further – who can personally verify your bona fides? Are you in that small group of dealers and auction houses whose opinion is respected?

Not everyone can do it. It is a bit more open for artists, but they can only verify their own work, and must be competent to do so.

Q: How is artwork added to the Blockchain verified?

By the party adding the piece to the Blockchain. If for any reason the party adding the piece has credentials revoked, that fact will be added to the Blockchain record.

Q: How do you verify the history of certain pieces?

We do not make those verifications, the party adding the piece does. However, a rather extensive provenance and publication history, as well as any lab reports, can be added to the Blockchain record.

Q: Can you see further application of Blockchain in the art industry?

HUGE – in many areas – with confidence in the object, there is a greater ability for financing and trade. From a consumer-facing point of view, there is an ability to engage with the object and its history and cultural context. The relationship with the dealer, gallery or auction house is also maintained with the object. In the context of back-stage operations of dealers and auctions, there is an ability to track and trace in shipping and storage. These are just a few examples, but we can expect many more applications in the future.

Q: Is Intaglio equipped to serve artists that wish to remain anonymous?

In theory, yes, but we have never met an artist who wished to be anonymous. More likely, it will be a collector who wishes to remain anonymous, and we can support that.

Q: With hackers keeping up with technological developments, how will Intaglio make sure it retains its integrity as a trusted immutable resource?

Constant vigilance. That’s why credentials are required to be updated annually, and we use forensic techniques to identify objects in addition to tags.

Tagsmart – Steve Cooke

Q: Can you explain the DNA Tag and how it protects artwork?

Our DNA tagging technology is part of a three-pronged approach, working alongside certification (physical and digital) provenance tracking. DNA Tags are physical components that are visibly (or invisibly) applied to the physical works themselves. These, in turn, form part of a multi-faceted tagging product range, covering multiple media and technologies.

Q: Is anything like this possible without technology? Prior to tech, was it simply the author’s signature at the bottom of the page?

Ever since masters and apprentices created indentures (torn contracts, where the two halves can be matched together) and rulers sealed their edicts with wax, there have been ways of confirming physical and social contracts. However, modern digital and materials science creates new opportunities, make solutions more accessible, and increase the reliability of verification.

Q: How can Tagsmart serve artists that wish to remain anonymous?

Means of protecting anonymity are built into our system, ranging from straightforward controls over access and publication permissions through to the generation of digital aliases.

Q: Can the Provenance Platform be added to/marketed from by anyone? Is it the art world’s Wikipedia and Amazon hybrid?

We expect to open up our platform more widely early in 2020 as part of our move to enable a marketplace where all parties can trade with trust.

Q: How do you validate artwork that is featured on the Provenance Platform?

Our role is to provide the tools for validation and to enable transparency: we are enablers of authentication, not authenticators. That said, in the three years since we launched, we have continually evolved new operating procedures to resolve the areas of doubt that often arise when attempting to authenticate works.

Q: What makes Tagsmart’s Certificates of Authenticity different to historic or competitor versions?

They are part of an integrated security system (including tagging and provenance) that enables trusted sellers to manage certification – an important part of the collector experience – with a few clicks of a mouse. Each Certificate has its own security profile, both on the platform and physically (including DNA marking and other methods) and can be remotely verified and revoked/regenerated/replaced. Other Certificates tend to have complex (or non-existent) replacement processes and are easily copied.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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