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TECHNOLOGY

art and the algorithms of forgery

Artist unknown, Contraste de formes, n.d., oil on canvas, 35 × 28".

IN THE PROCESS of authentication—of verifying who made what when—every painting becomes a landscape painting. Pigments are harvests, geology, trade routes, chemistry: Scheele’s green and lead white, viridian and madder and chrome yellow. The board on which they’re painted can be dendrochronologically dated, analyzing the rings and grain that document dry years and bitter winters in an oak on the Ligurian coast. A portrait from a wall in a private home is a slow-developing accumulation piece about coal heat, gaslight, and lampblack. The cotton of the canvas of a fake Fernand Léger, supposedly painted in 1913, carries “bomb peak” levels of carbon 14, the residue of postwar atmospheric nuclear testing—making it a picture of the skies over New Mexico and Novaya Zemlya in the 1950s that also happens to have a knockoff “Contraste de formes” on it. Just as a city skyline

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