Is the artworld interested in shared due diligence standards? 

Sep 27, 2023

At the prestigious Art Business Conference held in London on 12 September 2023, with more than 160 organisations and 350 professionals attending, a captivating array of topics were explored, delving into the intricate intersection of art, law and commerce. Among the stimulating discussions on themes such as “Sustainability and the art world“, and “Untitled: The Case for an International Title Registry for Art,” Art-Test was invited to a panel dealing with a topic that is close to our hearts: “Due Diligence Standards for Art.”

The panel featured esteemed experts, including Maria de Peverelli from Stonehage Fleming, Martin Wilson (Phillips), and Jennifer Schipf from AXA, who skillfully moderated the session.

The underlying premise of this discussion was the lack of standards across the art market and the profound implications this bears on art investments, as well as the perceived lack of transparency and accountability within the industry.

The conversation ignited with a crucial question: What would an internationally consistent set of standards offer to the art world? Panellists were also asked to reflect on the demand for such standards and the question of why they had not materialized before.

In fact, unlike many other markets, the art industry operates without a universally accepted framework of international standards and protocols to define comprehensive due diligence. This extends to areas encompassing provenance, authenticity (including technical analysis), conservation, and art historical research.

The result is not just a disparity in standards across different players in the art world but also varying expectations from museums to private collectors, for example for condition reports.

This divergence paints the art market with an unfortunate perception of being unregulated, although that is not entirely accurate. However, this misconception corrodes trust in the market and its participants.

During the captivating panel discussion, various poignant cases were cited, like the one above, revealing the repercussions of this lack of standardisation. The absence of agreed-upon standards predominantly benefits those who prefer to operate unprofessionally, while it may be hindering those who strive for transparency and accountability.

Art-Test, during its daily activities, witnesses how the abundant presence of fakes or misattributed artworks is a severe concern.

Although, inevitably, most of these issues remain concealed, causing distress only to the owners, some are brought to the public’s attention, creating “scandals” that further erode trust in the art market.

Nevertheless, many critical decisions, such as determining the authenticity of an artwork, seem to rest in the hands of a select group of experts or foundations, shrouded in what appears as a lack of transparency regarding the authentication process.

It is often a last resort for owners to turn to scientific analyses. Yet, even in this realm, one must pose the right questions to receive meaningful answers. Also in this domain it would be useful to establish standards and protocols for scientific evaluation procedures, to determine what should be asked to science, what answers could be expected and what data current techniques are not able to provide.

For instance, authenticity cannot be argued without a thorough examination of the materials used, and this examination must employ the appropriate techniques while examining all relevant aspects.

The proposal by Art-Test to define Art Diagnostics Standards

Therefore, there is an imperative need for consensus on the methodologies and techniques employed in these evaluations. While it was discussed during the panel that voluntary standards could be established, it was emphasized that any such agreement must originate within the art market itself.

Achieving this, however, is no small feat and demands the formation of a globally recognized body with a clear mandate from all stakeholders in the art market.

This endeavour may prove challenging, as buyers, sellers, and other vested parties may hold divergent perspectives. Nevertheless, the potential benefits of such unified standards for art due diligence are considerable, promising to elevate trust, transparency, and professionalism in the ever-evolving art world.

Anna Pelagotti
Anna Pelagotti