Entangled Art Provenance

Clan Barber, 2'x2', woodstain

This is the second iteration of this paper in which I further refine my ideas on how to accomplish art provenance with IOTA. From my previous paper:

I wish to address the primary concerns of art provenance in a simple and low-cost method which works for artists, owners and gallery goers — all concerned really. The following method might even allow for artists to continue collecting royalties on their work after it leaves their hands! Read on.

The primary concerns of provenance in art are establishing:

  1. Production, creation, or discovery circumstances and legitimacy
  2. Establishing history of ownership, custody and places of storage
  3. Establishing moral and legal validity of chain of custody

Provenance done right can go a long way towards destroying black markets for forgeries and thefts and can help the rightful owners or families thereof reclaim ownership of artwork or other precious items taken by force. Provenance of art, antiquities, wine and other items of high value is clearly important. A clean provenance can sometimes increase an object’s sale price by an order of magnitude.

The question then is how to do provenance right?

Other blockchain models exist for storing data and therefore provenance, immutably. However, with quantum computing and artificial intelligence technologies in their adolescence, blockchain may not be immune for much longer. This is why the quantum-resistance of IOTA is of interest here. You can read more about this particular property of IOTA here (https://blog.iota.org/a-proposal-for-reusable-addresses-part1-bc6dbca84cbf).

My original treatment of this subject proposed to use a method of two-factor authentication that would validate the artwork from two different sources (the artist and the owner), but this proposal fails when closely examined, because there is nothing immutable that links the artwork to its record in the tangle; there is no QR code that cannot be removed from the artwork or cannot itself be forged. For one motivated enough — and millions of dollars is quite the motivator — forging a work of art, its history and two sources of authentication might be a piece of cake. It would certainly be worth trying. The validity of the provenance rests in the legitimacy of the QR code that is attached to the artwork.


It was clear to me that the 2FA model would be an ineffective deterrent to forgery; another method would be needed.

The Process

Emergent Historical Consensus Aka ‘Entanglement’

The following proposal outlines a process by which an historical consensus is built regarding the provenance of a piece of art. I term this ‘emergent’, because as artworks and transactions are added to the following systems, consensus and therefore provenance grows stronger; ‘entanglement’ occurs. The pieces of this system are as follows:

The Registry

  • An online database which holds artist, artwork and collector information. Pulls data from transactions in the tangle and accepts input from artist. Makes data available to smartphone app.
  • Every effort should be made to ensure the trustworthiness of the organization that hosts and manages the registry. Perhaps as a non-profit.
  • Funding by percentage from artwork sales
  • Artist profiles free to create
  • Entry for each individual piece of art under artist profile
  • Photos
  • Description
  • Public comment MAM
  • Sale Information
  • Accessible primarily by app
  • Registry URLs would be in form of iota.artprovenance.org/artist/ID/artwork/ID
  • ‘ID’s would be Bundle Addresses from IOTA wallet transactions
  • Holds sequestered data for validation of artwork in case lost, stolen or forged
  • Only available for forensic analysis
  • HD photos
  • Various ‘fingerprinting’ measurements (weight, size, refraction index, etc)
  • Automatically scores profiles and artwork entries according to how entangled they are. The more artwork in the artist’s profile, the more transactions with collectors, the higher the score for an artwork.
  • Similarly , calculates how likely it is that profile and artwork entry are not legitimate. Similar artist name, media, artwork names, history, etc should raise red flags.
  • For an additional handling fee, the registry may also act as escrow agent for sales, holding both IOTA and physical art — releasing both only when terms of the contract have been fulfilled.

Escrow is another usecase that could be exploited for IOTA. Inheritance of tokens is a subject that has yet to be addressed adequately in my mind. When I die, how do I ensure that my tech-illiterate family get access to our tokens? Perhaps this trusted non-profit could provide that service as well, educating and shepherding families through the process. Regardless of crypto decentralized stance, this service is necessary and the company that recognizes this need will profit greatly.

The Artist

  • Creates an ‘Artist Wallet’
  • Generates an initial transaction, thereby giving him an associated Bundle Address (BundleAddress1).
  • Creates a profile on the registry using this Bundle Address. This forever ties this wallet to this artist.
  • http://iota.artprovenance.org/artist/BundleAddress1
  • Creates an ‘Artwork Wallet’ for each piece of art
  • Sends a transaction from ‘Artist Wallet’ to ‘Artwork Wallet’, generating a Bundle Address (BundleAddress2) forever tying this piece of artwork to artist.
  • Creates an entry under their registry profile for each piece of art
  • http://iota.artprovenance.org/artist/BundleAddress1/artwork/BundleAddress2
  • Creates a public comment MAM stream for each piece of art
  • Updates artwork registry entry with public comment MAM
  • Gives registry access to XDK sensor stream for each piece of art

The Physical Artwork

  • QR → Link to full registry entry
  • XDK sensor (wallet) → monitors conditions

The Smartphone App

  • Generates QR code from registry entry for placement on physical artwork
  • Scan QR code on physical artwork
  • View full registry entry
  • Pictures
  • Full artist provided description
  • Sale information
  • Browse full provenance
  • Artist
  • Owner
  • Formal Artwork Description
  • History
  • Storage conditions (from XDK sensor)
  • Browse public comments
  • Add comment
  • IOTA is charged for each comment
  • Dissuades graffiti
  • Benefits original artist, regardless of current owner
  • Browse the Art Market
  • Facilitates sale of artwork
  • Transfer to Trinity wallet to complete transaction
  • Utilize smart contract to complete sale and to enforce a percentage of sale for artist and registry organization.
  • Registry updated with new owner information (BundleAddress3)
  • http://iota.artprovenance.org/artist/BundleAddress1/artwork/BundleAddress2/collector/BundleAddress3
  • Provides method for artist or owner (collector) to provide and/or update sale information

For the art market viewer:

  • Displays a nicely formatted provenance, preferably pulled directly from the tangle using Bundle Addresses
  • Displays XDK sensor information, pulled directly from MAM
  • Displays full description and photographs
  • Displays sales information
  • Displays and allows comments to be made into the public MAM

Must be able to work as an artist tool, prompting artist:

  • To create artist wallet using IF official libraries
  • To auto register profile with registry
  • To create artwork wallet using IF official libraries
  • To auto register artwork with registry
  • To edit artist profile on registry
  • To edit artwork description on registry
  • To take and upload photographs of artwork for public viewing
  • To take and upload photographs and other ‘fingerprint’ data to registry to be sequestered unless/until needed for forensic analysis
  • Request escrow if desired on transactions

Must be able to work as a collector tool:

  • To make purchase offer on artwork
  • To facilitate communication with artist/current owner
  • To complete transaction
  • Smart contracts to send % to artist and registry
  • Request escrow if desired

How Provenance?

By its very nature, the artist registry profile and the artworks contained therein build an historical consensus for each piece of art added. The Bundle Addresses maintained in the registry provide an immutable trail from artist to all of their artworks and from those pieces of artwork to their collectors. The legitimacy of the other artworks within the artist profile lend legitimacy to the entry for the questioned artwork, and with each transaction, new artworks, sales, location changes, etc, the legitimacy of both the artist and the artwork is strengthened. I call this ‘entanglement’.

While a forger might take the time to forge the artwork, create the wallets, the new registry entries, and the associated QR code, it is unlikely that the forger could build a history of artwork, transactions, comments, sensor data, etc that would be above question.

Benefits To The Artist

There are several ways the original artist can benefit from their artwork, even after it has changed hands. As part of the price for an unquestioned provenance, collectors agree to pay a small percentage of sale price to the original artist. This can be enforced through the smart contracts used and by the registry app. As the price for the artwork goes up, the artist benefits proportionally.

Additionally, comments on the artwork belong to the artist and a small fee can be ‘donated’ by the person making the comment to the artist.

Art Market

The registry not only acts a method for providing provenance, but can also become the market of choice for legitimate art sales. A small percentage of every sale would make the registry a very profitable organization.

“The global art market was valued at over 67 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, up from almost 64 billion the previous year. This increase is also shown in the volume of global art sales which reached approximately 40 million transactions in 2018, up from 39 million the previous year.”

Legacy Holders

If the artist is deceased, this method remains beneficial to the legacy holders (museums, galleries, heirs, etc) of an artist’s work and would provide an income which might continue to support the artist’s work.


Antiquity provenance could also be registered by various authoritative museums after validation by their experts. The app could facilitate various activities for these organizations.

Thefts, Loss, Known Forgeries

The registry would be updated by owner, artists, legacy holders, museums, law enforcement any time an artwork is lost. When a piece of art is recovered, it can be verified and validated by forensic experts against the data held in the registry. Known forgeries can be cataloged. New profiles and artworks could be cross-referenced with list of stolen/lost artworks.

How is this better than other systems?


Superior to blockchain in numerous ways and therefore a superior solution for art provenance.


Utilizing the provenance of related art works to help establish the provenance of the piece of art in question is far superior to a simple entry in the blockchain and a certificate of authenticity, and removes the question of what happens if the QR code itself is forged or stolen. This is comparable to the concept of ‘mana’ used by IOTA. Artwork provenance is strengthened in this way by legitimate transactions on both previously registered artwork and artwork that is added later.



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