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Thursday, April 14, 2011

USM's Science Cafe: Digital Art Authentication

     As part of the Science Cafe series, the University of Southern Mississippi presented a lecture by Dr. Jan Siesling, director of USM's Museum of Art, that discussed digital art authentication.  This lecture was held in the Starbucks of Cook Library, and as an added bonus, offered discounted drinks and free snacks. 
   Dr. Siesling opened the Science Cafe presentation by relating that the first painting he ever bought turned out to be a fake.  He said that he spent a night believing his investment could possibly be worth a million dollars.  However, he soon learned that he had paid for a fake.
     Now, as an expert on the works of Vincent van Gogh, Dr. Siesling said that he can tell the difference between an authentic painting and a fake within minutes.  He believes his ability is the result of much face time with the works themselves.  The NOVA video that was shown on this topic presents another method that can now be used to authenticate works of art using a statistical modeling approach.  NOVA commissioned an art restoration expert to try to replicate one of van Gogh's paintings, and using this statistical modeling software, three separate institutions were able to identify it as a fake among other authentic paintings from van Gogh.
     Dr. Sielsing came to the conclusion that the abundance of fake paintings that exist has caused the small number of originals to be in higher demand and retain a higher value.  He says this is because the public believes in signatures, which stems from our medieval veneration of relics.  Because approximately one-third of all the art in the world's museums is fake, Dr. Siesling's advice for procuring authentic art is to simply buy from the artist.  Dr. Siesling concluded that humans value art, not because it decorates our walls, but because we are human, and humans make art. 

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