Certificates of authenticity are a critical aspect of art work sales today. They often even embody the artwork itself, while referring to it, serving as its deed, legal statement and fiscal invoice. Certificates by artists validate the authorship and originality of the work and they allow the work of art to be positioned in the marketplace as a branded product, no matter how immaterial or transient that product may be. Whereas the inherent importance of any given work of art should be self-evident to the connoisseur’s eye, the certificate points the focus elsewhere and proves that material or aesthetic qualities in an object sometimes do not suffice in constituting the work of art. In our globalised, capitalist present, the certificate and its implications about artistic thinking, have become an instrument of business enterprise, as well as a philosophical statement about the nature of an art work.
Certificates have legal and ontological implications that make them fascinating documents of changing attitudes toward art and the role of artists. Providing examples of artists’ certificates from the past fifty years, this exhibition revealed how roles have shifted and developed, as well as how the materials and the content of art has changed too. Concise didactic texts assisted the viewer in contextualising each inclusion in the presentation. These ranged from the most official-looking printed documents, with their imprimatur of institutionalisation, to dashed-off notations that perform the same definitive function in constituting and defining the parameters of a given art work.