Art Provenance With IOTA

“Ceres” By Dan Barber. 2'x4' wood stain
  • Production, creation, or discovery circumstances and legitimacy
  • Establishing history of ownership, custody and conditions of storage
  • Establishing moral and legal validity of chain of custody

IOTA For Provenance — How It Might Work

A Unique IOTA Wallet For Each Piece Of Art

Each individual piece of art is assigned an IOTA wallet by the artist. This wallet is kept by the artist, their estate, or the current keeper of that artist’s legacy; this wallet is never to be transferred to the owner of the object, unless that owner also inherits the legacy of the artist. Using IOTA’s Masked Authenticated Messaging (MAM), the artist can add all the pertinent information about the artwork (creation date, location, medium, methods, circumstances, etc) into IOTA as a transaction.

The Art Piece — Two Factor Authentication — Part One

Each piece of art would carry with it a permanently attached QR code which stores one piece of a 2FA code. This code should allow visitors to galleries to read the provenance of the piece using a smart device, but would not allow for any kind of ownership transfer; I.E. read-only. A QR code or other non-powered method of holding data is preferred as batteries have a limited lifetime in comparison to the lifetime value of artwork. Possession of the art piece, by itself, does not confer ownership.

The Owner Certificate — Two Factor Authentication — Part Two

The owner would hold a certificate containing the second piece to the 2FA. By itself, this code would also be read-only, and would also allow for a full review of provenance. Possession of the certificate, by itself, does not confer ownership.


Only when both codes are used together could transactions be sent to the object’s wallet. This prevents the claiming of ownership simply by stealing or taking by force either the art piece or the certificate.

Updating Provenance

The details of how the 2FA would work together to allow transactions to be sent to a receive address for a wallet held by a third party needs to be designed. This goes back to the reusable address ‘issue’ that is inherent to IOTA’s quantum-resistance.

  • Wallets that can be tagged as receive-only wallets so the send address can never be used. This would allow for provenance to be written without concern that the wallet would ever be compromised.
  • Allow for artwork wallets to be queried from other wallets for a new receive address. I.E. IOTA has an API that allows third parties to query wallets for a new ‘receive address’ to which they can then send funds, and therefore receive addresses are never re-used.

Transfer Of Ownership

Of course, there is always the manual method which for transfer of ownership may be the best method anyway — the buyer of the artwork would contact the artist (details for contact would be in the provenance) and request an address to which to send the IOTA.

Starting A Conversation

I know there are probably many difficulties that I have not considered. Please feel free to correct my understanding of how IOTA works and can be used for this purpose. I’m very keen on the idea of artists continuing to collect on their art (having some art for sale, myself), and I think this falls right under the banner of General Good that IOTA wishes to achieve for the world.



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