Entangled Art Provenance

The full article was originally published by Daniel D. Barber on Medium. Read the full article here.

Iteration Two

This is the second iteration of this paper in which I further refine my ideas on how to accomplish art provenance with IOTA. From my previous paper:

I wish to address the primary concerns of art provenance in a simple and low-cost method which works for artists, owners and gallery goers — all concerned really. The following method might even allow for artists to continue collecting royalties on their work after it leaves their hands! Read on.

The primary concerns of provenance in art are establishing:

  1. Production, creation, or discovery circumstances and legitimacy
  2. Establishing history of ownership, custody and places of storage
  3. Establishing moral and legal validity of chain of custody

Provenance done right can go a long way towards destroying black markets for forgeries and thefts and can help the rightful owners or families thereof reclaim ownership of artwork or other precious items taken by force. Provenance of art, antiquities, wine and other items of high value is clearly important. A clean provenance can sometimes increase an object’s sale price by an order of magnitude.

The question then is how to do provenance right?

Other blockchain models exist for storing data and therefore provenance, immutably. However, with quantum computing and artificial intelligence technologies in their adolescence, blockchain may not be immune for much longer. This is why the quantum-resistance of IOTA is of interest here. You can read more about this particular property of IOTA here (https://blog.iota.org/a-proposal-for-reusable-addresses-part1-bc6dbca84cbf).

My original treatment of this subject proposed to use a method of two-factor authentication that would validate the artwork from two different sources (the artist and the owner), but this proposal fails when closely examined, because there is nothing immutable that links the artwork to its record in the tangle; there is no QR code that cannot be removed from the artwork or cannot itself be forged. For one motivated enough — and millions of dollars is quite the motivator — forging a work of art, its history and two sources of authentication might be a piece of cake. It would certainly be worth trying. The validity of the provenance rests in the legitimacy of the QR code that is attached to the artwork.


It was clear to me that the 2FA model would be an ineffective deterrent to forgery; another method would be needed.

The Process

Emergent Historical Consensus Aka ‘Entanglement’

The following proposal outlines a process by which an historical consensus is built regarding the provenance of a piece of art. I term this ‘emergent’, because as artworks and transactions are added to the following systems, consensus and therefore provenance grows stronger; ‘entanglement’ occurs. The pieces of this system are as follows:

Read the full Article

The full article was originally published by Daniel D. Barber on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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