Fingerprint on ART

Imagine a work by Schiele, Picasso or Van Gogh, whose genetic identity could be verified with a certainty of not 50%, but 100%. Such a work – documented, patented and registered – would be of inestimable value for the cultural generation of today – and absolutely reliable as proof of identity and provenance. This system of DNA analysis would render it impossible to forge a work.

An artist always thinks commercially, not in terms of assuring his work for the future. This is quite normal. It would, however, be of great advantage for our cultural society if an artist were to give some thought to creating a completely foolproof system suitable for the international market. Artworks are always being offered for sale internationally – by private sellers, collections or museums – but even for recognised experts their authorship and provenance is often unclear. In these cases, forgery is very often implied, though not proved.

Up to now, in practice, an expert's report has been an objective record of a subjective opinion, which may not have great significance. What justifies a hugely inflated price for an artwork if an export's report states that it is a forgery? Who is to decide? How is the contrary to be proved? Collectors are in a state of uncertainty, even now, in the 21st century, when technology is so far advanced that everything is registered and verifiable. Only art still has large gaps in the area between original and forgery.
The aesthetic quality of art is a different question. Many people buy artworks simply for their aesthetic appeal; this is good for the artist. When a work is re-sold, however, the value is not assessed purely on aesthetic grounds, but according to provenance and proof of authorship. This is important for collectors looking for future security and lasting value.

What is the use of possessing the best and most expensive picture in the world, if an expert's report declares it to be a forgery? How can a collector protect himself? Well, he cannot – unless the living artist has identified the work by a genetic fingerprint authenticated, registered and patented worldwide as a signature, and thus unique in the art world. This is the artist's only possibility of conclusive proof of identity after his death.

In order to achieve this guarantee in the 21st century, a reliable system must be established, accepted by recognised critics and thus placed beyond question – and encouraging collectors, museums and investors to put more resources into art.

Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said – especially when emotions run high. In 1997, the topic of art forgery was constantly in the media. I asked experts in art galleries and museums about ways of making art forgery-proof. None of them had thought about this, and simply replied that there is no way – it's a question of trust. As an artist, I found this not only unsatisfactory but also somehow insulting. We know that in the course of an artist's career his style will change, so that the authenticity of his early or late works may be called in question. There are even documented cases where an artist has believed a forgery of his own work to be an original. All this motivated me to demonstrate that there are in fact ways for a living artist to protect his identity for posterity.

At this point, my attention was devoted primarily to the environment – work which earned me several awards. This series was concluded in 1999, with a retrospective entitled 1989 – 1999 in a gallery in Germany. During this decade I had held many shows in Austria and abroad, and due to the high level of media reporting, the press dubbed me "eco-painter" – the only one in the German-speaking world.
As an artist, however, I was in search of new challenges.

In 1997 I had the idea of leaving the my right thumb-print on the back of a picture. Fortunately, my collection of 90 large-scale pictures was still complete, and having thumb-printed them all, I was in possession of the only absolutely forgery-proof private collection in the world.
A system was born: Fingerprint on Art

Now the real work began. I had my fingerprint registered with the Salzburg police records department, and in 1998 I applied to the Guinness Book of Records and received accreditation. Later, I registered the fingerprint as identity protection with a patent lawyer in Germany. Research took some time, and since the fingerprint had not yet been patented as a trade-mark on artworks, I had it patented for myself.

Repeated personal experiments in the records department were necessary for the correct application of a fingerprint on an artwork, and I constantly provided new suggestions and ideas, leading to the development of a "Fingerprint on Art" data bank for storing all registrations of an artwork. The concept was completed by a software program for easy and reliable comparison of the fingerprint on the original artwork with that registered in the data bank. The finished product was then presented to the managing committee of an art insurance company in Vienna and to the committee of the Art Loos Register in Cologne – an institution which investigates art piracy and forgery worldwide. They considered the technique to be of great advantage for the 21st century. The Federal Criminal Police Office in Wiesbaden found the system very useful, since it could be adopted by other collections and museums (applied in a concealed place).

My "Fingerprint on Art" data bank has now expanded to include more than 1,000 artworks, registered for posterity as my own work. For added security, the dactylographic coordinates are registered with every entry. After expert examination, the "Fingerprint on Art" system has been accorded a Certificate of Authenticity.


Of course, this imposes a constraint on the artist himself, as a possible forger or copyist of his own work. Since every biometric fingerprint is identical yet optically distinct, according to the pressure applied on each artwork, even the artist himself cannot duplicate a fingerprint. It would be like splashing paint on a wall with a brush, then trying to duplicate the resultant pattern in the same way – which would be quite impossible, even if the paint is the same. This means that every application of a fingerprint is unique. My "Fingerprint on Art" is my artistic trademark; I have no problem with presenting my DNA identity, since the system is absolutely forgery-proof. This makes my work in the 21st century a unique niche project in the international art scene.

An artist must sometimes bring himself to be open-minded for what is new – not only in questions of style, but also for a system offering progress and security in the 21st century. A pioneering spirit is required. For ten years I have applied myself to developing a method of making art forgery-proof for the next cultural generation and offering secure proof of an artist's identity. The fingerprints are not only visible, but also invisibly applied on the artwork. Thus the prints become visible only through dactyloscopic analysis; as for the invisible ones, I challenge any forger to manage these.

Since there is no comparable security system, Werner Reiter hereby declares his "Fingerprint on Art" as a 21st-century artwork. Every artwork has its (hi)story, but only the Fingerprint on Art proves its provenance and the identity of its creator. This is protection and innovation for 21st-century art.