In a barnburner of an article for the New Yorker, David Grann investigates the work of Peter Paul Biro and the forensic analysis of artworks for which he is well-known.
He does not merely try to detect the artist’s invisible hand; he scours a painting for the artist’s fingerprints, impressed in the paint or on the canvas. Treating each painting as a crime scene, in which an artist has left behind traces of evidence, Biro has tried to render objective what has historically been subjective. In the process, he has shaken the priesthood of connoisseurship, raising questions about the nature of art, about the commodification of aesthetic beauty, and about the very legitimacy of the art world. Biro’s research seems to confirm what many people have long suspected: that the system of authenticating art works can be arbitrary and, at times, even a fraud.
However, the more Grann and others dug into his past, the more Biro seemed to be in fraudulent territory himself.