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Art in the Age of Analytics

We are all connected. We are all ephemeral. So is Art.

So why, in this age of Big Data, is it not possible to track the impact on art price of a substantial change in art condition? Doing so continuously would improve the longevity of the artwork, making it slightly less ephemeral.

Big Data has the potential to highlight the traceability which exists naturally in the Art World, allowing us to see, for example, the price impact on passion investments of global auction sales of other works by the same artist.

It would allow us to see the security impact of geopolitical events, such as treasure looting in Iraq, that increased the global supply of ‘conflict antiquities’ by 145% between 2011 and 2013 (source: U.S. International Trade Commission).

And yet it seems that data lives in silos in the art world, speaking volumes but never heard.

We have no time for Big Data. We are all Too Busy. And yet data can save our lives. Literally.

Contextual Data

Your mobile phone (and the sum of apps on it) probably know more about You than You do. It could be used to cause harm or to call someone you need when you need them.

We live in an age when technology and society are the same thing. Our virtual friends, our virtual business contacts – large parts of society – would disappear from our world in a moment if there was no such technology.

We live in an age when Google advises you how long it will take you to get home by car this evening.

We live in an age when you can track which of your favourite restaurant chains are nearest to you right now.

This is what we mean by ‘contextual’.

So why not have the same contextual approach to better manage and protect art collections? More accurate. More focussed. More relevant.

The essence behind contextual analytics lies in adding value, bringing transparency and reducing risk in the Art World, and defining that elusive equilibrium between the conservation and exhibition of fragile art and antiquities, the Holy Grail for museums.

Art and Light

Because to see art is to damage it. Some photons reflect from an object of beauty and reach our eyes to produce a sensation of awe.

Some photons, on the other hand, are absorbed by the object, causing photochemical changes to its molecular structure, resulting in fading, cracking and embrittlement.

Extreme light levels on an ancient stone sculpture would not increase the heart rate of an art conservator, but that same level of light would destroy an antique silk garment within days.

Data must therefore be contextual to have meaning.

Contextual Display

We need art display environments to be more like smart phones. Capable of telling us in real-time whether the artwork is suffering unnecessary risk due to fluctuating conditions, or suffering excessive exposure to light through its own popularity.

Increased incident light on an artwork increases the temperature, which reduces the relative humidity, increasing the lift-off of friable media (such as charcoal, pastels or graphite) due to the build-up of static charge.

All of these environmental variables are connected to the condition, market value and risk of damage to an artwork and can impact our decision to sell, buy, wait, or invest in a piece.

Any art investment should be preserved for humanity, not just for the next generation. It is a duty. It is a passion.

Preserving art should happen through silent and yet pervasive technology, just as this same technology has enriched our everyday lives in so many other ways.

New technologies such as Augmented Reality, Smart Glass, Internet-of-Things, Blockchain and Machine Learning will allow us to not just conserve art, but also to increase the visibility of art, without jeopardising it for future generations.

So we can learn from history. So we can appreciate our cultural differences. So we can continue to value beauty, despite its fragility.

Let’s make it so.

Further Reading

Read our article Price Traceability in the Art World for a vision of how art collections may be managed in the near future with ArtRatio vitrines.