“Unfortunately the critical difference is not whether the authentication is of the highest standard, such as I assume all members of this group subscribe to. Rather an issue for us all is the ‘shoot the messenger’ tactic that is played out as part of the process. This is embedded in the judicial system – in an attempt to win a case it is necessary to discredit the opposition. A clear counter to this is to treat all evidence as evidence for a proposition, clearly define the proposition, and provide verifiable and reproducible data to support the proposition. This is what a good authentication report will do. The ones I have seen that have come unstuck have failed to understand that scientific data (materials analysis), art historical data (context), and provenance (causal chain) are not end points in the delivery of evidence but tools in developing an argument. The strength of the position is the strength of the evidential chain. So developing frameworks that support how evidence is collected and presented are critical.
I also think it is critical not to confuse politics with process. The politics of the artworld involves reputation, market position and money. When authentication gets in the way of these then any ammunition available will be used, including the press and the law (and criminal retribution). Effective, verifiable, transparent processes are the protective mechanism, but they are not a counter to attacks. To have effective counters in place internationally is extremely complex as the response is often delivered through laws of defamation, or attacks against reputation. These vary from country to country.
If a new body is to be formed then it needs strong input from legal experts and good journalists. Without these skill sets then the museums, galleries, professional bodies etc. will misunderstand the armaments that are available for those with an interest in peddling fakes and disrupting the market.
It is also, of course, a much broader issue of market standards – proper documentation eg. and valuing provenance. This takes us into the political territory of national collection building – see for example Neil Brodie ‘Congenial bedfellows: The Academy and the Antiquities Trade’ or Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 2011 27: 408 or Roger Atwood’s Stealing History. St Martins Press NY 2004. Institutions can’t be seen to subscribing to high standards of authentication while their own acquisition processes run counter to valuing the evidential chain involved in the authentication process. So how to counter the double standards evident here is, in some ways, even more complex than dealing with the criminals.”