PHILADELPHIA, PA.- As an avid collector of contemporary art, I very much depend on the veracity and truthfulness of the artwork I purchase. It is important to have trust in the art dealer, and that the dealer is transparent about the provenance. And, as a medical professional as well, much of the same resonates in the relationship between a patient and a physician.
There are strong parallels between the models and procedures followed in diagnostic medical research and art authentication. In discerning the authenticity of an art work a painting, for example forensic tests and studies play a part in the process, but only go so far and are not, by any means, exhaustive and absolute.
Medical procedures are used to arrive at a diagnostic opinion; however, the process is a cognitive one, in which tests, studies, physical examinations and findings are joined to form an accurate impression.
A single aberrant test result in a patient demands and dictates confirmation by repeat studies and tests within the same laboratory or within several laboratories to assure proper compatibility with the patients condition especially when the result is not expected or misrepresents the true state of a patients health and the doctors assessment in examination.
Such standard practice in medicine should be mirrored in the authentication process of compositions, as the area of forensic science develops as a new tool in determining the credulity in works of art.
It is well known that artists experiment with existing, readily available and new materials, that are prototypes and not yet on the market. They test and invent in the studio from a multitude of sources outside stock art supply markets, which have been documented about in detail. There are numerous historical texts and manuscripts that provide references to the secrets of the old masters, for example.
The etiology of an artists practice is and has been the subject of endless speculation by art historians, conservators and museum professionals. And this field of study is, to some degree, similar to that of the medical clinician, whose work, if it is to be successful, must be conceived as a dynamic process. The capacity to devise an accurate opinion is the result of knowledge and experience accrued over years of practice.
As materials change and advance from those that were available when a work of art was originally created, one painting can have a considerable lineage of contrasting media of varied chronology.
In the developments and conclusions concerning a painting, subject of a lawsuit, from the Elegy to the Spanish Republic series of artist Robert Motherwell, it was revealed that the painting in question stemmed from a private collection that was branded faux because of one forensic study alone regardless of the divergent and shifting opinions on its authenticity by some experts in the field.
Given that Motherwell was an artist who routinely worked on and reworked his paintings, a plural study with a peer review should have been standard procedure.
This rings true in the investigation case on Jackson Pollocks 1943 pre-drip painting called Mural, which is being questioned for its material composition and techniques as in the methods of practice for artists in their studios. Both scientists and conservators will collaborate in the examination of the 8-by-20 foot canvas by developing a treatment approach. This kind of peer review is essential to the reliability in studies of this kind.
With that, I am curious why a private firm operated by a single individual, provided the only forensic analysis of the Motherwell painting in question. I wondered why the Dedalus Foundation, custodian of Motherwells legacy, failed to request that someone qualified from the Getty Institute or other reputable and respected institutions study the work, at least, for a second scientific evaluation.
The dictate and demand for adequate research and repeat study are crucial in art authentication. In the terms of diagnostic research, this demonstrates serious deficiencies of procedure ones that are out of keeping a comprehensive combination of connoisseurship and science.