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Art History Hunter

Alexis Culotta talks about researching the history of works of art

Scholastic Art: What is your job?

Alexis Culotta: I am an art researcher and analyst for an organization that authenticates, or verifies, art. I find out whether an artwork is real—by the artist people think created it—or a forgery.

SA: What is a forgery?

AC: A forgery is an artwork that someone makes but claims that it is by a famous artist. They do so for fraudulent purposes—to deceive people to make money. 

SA: How do you authenticate a work?

AC: Every assignment takes me down a different path. But the first step is usually the same—I examine the work and meet with the client to collect information about the piece. I look at sales receipts and other historical documentation. The next step could be anything! That’s what’s so exciting about my job. I might need to track down the meaning of a number written on the back of the painting, learn more about the owner’s family history, or anything else.

SA: How can you tell if a work is a forgery? Do forgers make mistakes?

AC: Finding forgers’ mistakes makes my job interesting. Sometimes the mistake is in the material. Maybe the forger paints on a type of canvas that didn’t exist when the artist was alive. Or the mistake is in the subject matter. Maybe the style of dress doesn’t fit with the era of the artist who supposedly painted the scene.

SA: What skills make you successful?

AC: In addition to knowing about art, strong research and writing skills are a must. Also, many sources in art history are written in French, Italian, or German. So developing at least a reading knowledge of these languages is important.

SA: What do you love about your job?

AC: I really enjoy answering people’s questions. They want to know more about a work: Did a certain artist paint it? What collections has it passed through? Where was it exhibited? Providing the answers is very satisfying!

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