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Board member of Philadelphia Museum of Art connects medical research & art authentication
A woman views an 18th century oil on canvas titled Saint Michael the Archangel from Cuzco, Peru during a press preview of the Journeys to New Worlds: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art from the Roberta and Richard Hubert Collection exhibition in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Philadelphia. The exhibition is scheduled to run from Feb. 16th to May 19th in the Perelman building.

By: Dr. Luther Brady

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 patient’s condition — especially when the result is not expected or misrepresents the true state of a patient’s health and the doctor’s 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 artist’s 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 Pollock’s 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 Motherwell’s 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.

Today's News

February 19, 2013

Sculpture from the Düsseldorf Art Academy on view at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

Significant exhibition exploring early decades of Cubism opens at Irish Museum of Modern Art

Christie's London announces the sale of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Guest's Collection

Seattle Art Museum presents European masterworks from London and Seattle collections

Estate of the film producer Hercules Bellville up for auction at Holloway's of Banbury

Mini cars attract mega interest at RM's record-setting Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum Sale

Board member of Philadelphia Museum of Art connects medical research & art authentication

Art, defecation and death at Australian gambler David Walsh's MONA: Museum of Old and New Art

Oleg Vassiliev, leading Nonconformist and Contemporary Russian painter, dies at 81

Twentieth century chic: New display marks 100 years of fashion and social change

Racine Art Museum opens "Shades of Gray: Black and White Graphics from the Collection"

Shapero Rare Books to present a manuscript from the library of the Tsar at TEFAF

Bidders take their pick from Pennsylvania Treasury's 'unclaimed' vault in Morphy's million-dollar auction

Audiences in Moscow see the future of photography through the eyes of Russian and German artists

MCA unveils first work purchased through the new MCA Foundation

"Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery" at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City

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