Cherchez les Catalogues Raisonné

The success of the art market depends largely on confidence in the authenticity of artists’ works. Traditionally, a work in an artist’s “catalogue raisonné” has been key to confirming the authenticity, and thus value. To that point, a recent lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (“S.D.N.Y.”) regarding a purported Jackson Pollock work underscores the importance of the catalogue raisonné in pre-purchase due diligence, and shows that omission from the catalogue could be potentially disastrous to the value of a work. See Lagrange v. Knoedler Gallery, LLC, 11-cv-8757 (S.D.N.Y.) (filed Dec. 1, 2011).

A catalogue raisonné is designed to be a comprehensive compilation of artist works, describing the works in a way that may be reliably identified by third parties. As scholarly compilations of an artist’s body of work, catalogues raisonnés are critical tools for researching the attribution and provenance of artwork. In a catalogue raisonné, the works are arranged in chronological order, and each entry describes the individual work’s dimensions, materials, exhibition history, citation history and ownership information. Typically, a catalogue raisonné is written by the leading experts on an artist over the course of many years’ research. In evaluating a work, such experts examine the work’s overall visual appearance, technical execution, historical context, and even resort to forensics in the quest to confirm or deny whether a work is by the artist’s hand. While historically catalogues raisonnés have been published as books, there has been a recent movement toward digital versions of such catalogs, such as the online catalogue raisonné of artist Isamu Noguchi, recently launched by the Noguchi Museum.

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