Expertise. In Judgment of Art: History, Technology, Law and the Market
Art experts on trial, works damaged by restoration, lawyers demanding that paintings be returned to their rightful owners – events like this often hit the headlines. How is what we know about art determined by methodological foundations and established practices? Who does know about art and what right to they have to claim as much? Do art historians, restorers, dealers and lawyers all mean the same thing when they talk about art?
Expert appraisals of works of art for the purpose of determining their authenticity are a core business of practical art research and hence of great significance to art history and commercial dealings. This is always particularly apparent when misjudgements disturb the smooth running of the art market and questions about the right methods for establishing the truth are brought to public attention via the media. The call which often then ensues for techniques drawn from the natural sciences obscures the fact that authentication processes are embedded within complex epistemic structures, where interactions occur between comparative appreciation by sight, historical contextualisation, archive research and investigations into provenance, and analysis by optical and chemical means.