Preserving Art: How the Blockchain Prevents Theft, Misplacement, and Forgery

Unlikely Match

One might not see a clear connection between the art world and blockchain at first. The first deals in works of history, with a reputation for high prices and exclusivity. The latter represents a futuristic emerging technology that is prized by many for its capacity to decentralize, and be universally accessible.

This apparent divide notwithstanding, there is also much common ground to be found between the industry and blockchain, especially in 2018, a year that has seen record prices set across art markets.

Art and Culture

In challenging economic times such as these, it’s easy to understand why some might scoff at the prospect of art theft and ask, “who cares if a few splashes of paint get stolen?”

But when one stops to consider that many works of art represent priceless cultural heritage, the gravity of the crime comes in sharp focus. How would someone feel, after all, if they woke up to the vanishing of all Van Goghs into a black market supplied private collection?

This applies not only to countries like the UK who claim along and august relationship with the arts (and museums), but to any society with art that predates their current form. Modern day Italy and Greece may have only been founded in the 19th century, but their artistic heritage dates back millennia. Theft, loss, or destruction of such creations strikes right at the heart of their national identity.

Crypto art exhibition
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Crypto paintings exhibition, Russia. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Picture This

Some heists are carried out akin to a Hollywood blockbuster, with elaborate and stealthy overnight rituals going unseen and unheard. Others have been more straightforward, as when a thief strides into a gallery, grabs a painting, and makes a run for it in broad daylight.

As well as the damage to a nation’s history and culture that is caused by the theft of its greatest works, there’s also the rampant use of art as a criminal commodity. With billions of dollars of stolen art in circulation around the world, its use as collateral in the illegal trade of drugs, guns, and other crimes means combating art theft is also an effective avenue to combating other offenses.

Beyond the criminal applications, there is the reality that sometimes art can simply go missing. Even with existing technological solutions in place, old paper records, misplaced wills for deceased estates, and the haze of catastrophic events like natural disasters or war, all lead to disappearing acts.

In these situations, the blockchain can be an invaluable source of record keeping that allows owners and academics to keep track of where art is or where it may have gone to. With the arrival of this emerging tech, there is the prospect of a stronger and more effective form of security and administration to emerge in the art world, not just in theft or misplacement, but in cases of forgery where a great deal of money changes hands for a replica worth less than the frame it sits in.

There is also ample room for the industry to expand on the pioneering work done by crypto and blockchain enthusiasts so far. Alongside the successful sale in January 2018 of four paintings in Singapore, more recent months have seen fine art auctioneer Maecenas’ blockchain offer fractional ownership of Andy Warhol’s Fourteen Small Electric Chairs.

For the art world and all its admirers, the push and pull factors in its industry presently affirm there’s never been a more exciting or necessary time to cast an eye once more over the potential use of cryptos and blockchain in their field.

Ed Kennedy
Ed Kennedy
Ed Kennedy is a journalist at BlockTelegraph News and a web developer from Melbourne, Australia. A keen technologist with an enduring interest in the rise of a truly digital global economy, Ed is passionate about the transformative potential blockchain offers our world.

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