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The Certificate of Authenticity: Conceptual Art

Posted Jun 04, 2015
Written by Fran Zeman
Category General

Appraisers are often called upon to appraise prints and other works of art for which a “certificate of authenticity” has been issued. Depending on the issuer of the certificate and claims it makes, this piece of paper can be valuable or valueless. The topic to be addressed here concerns what a valid Certificate of Authenticity means to the value of Conceptual art.

For Conceptual art, it is the artist’s idea or concept that constitutes originality. Because Conceptual art works are accompanied by a plan/template and/or may be made of natural materials, or commercially available/industrial materials anyone can buy, in theory, anyone with a set of these plans/templates can create/recreate the art. Just two examples of artists whose work fits this profile are Sol LeWitt (Wall Drawings) and Dan Flavin (fluorescent light sculptures). Once artists began issuing certificates of authenticity documenting their work in enough specific detail and registered/recorded the issuance of the certificate in their records/archives, this document became the most important factor related to the art itself. In fact, without it, the artwork is not marketable or may not even be insurable.
Say you purchased a Conceptual artwork by any number of artists who have since died, you have owned the property for 25 years and you find that the certificate is missing. Even with perfect records and a copy of the original certificate signed by the artist, the chances of you being issued a replacement of the original are next to none.  No matter that the artist’s foundation has the same records – they will generally refuse to re-issue a certificate on the chance that the original will surface, making it possible for a second “authorized” work to be produced.

When you purchase a Conceptual work of art, make sure to protect the paperwork, especially anything that is “blueprint-like” in terms of design and construction. While you have the right to install, de-install and reinstall, as long as you follow the artist’s concept and instructions, the work of art is as original as it was at concept. Put the certificates in a fireproof place and, if you consign your art for sale, make certain the consignee agrees to indemnify you if the accompanying certificate is lost. In this case, value is in the paper on which the certificate is printed.