Evaluating the Evidence of Authenticity

Aug 2015

I would have enrolled in this course even if it weren’t highly recommended by past students because the subject sounded so interesting. In the end, I consider this course to be the most important art history class I have ever taken and am excited to use what I learned in my future studies. Professor Catterson based this summer’s lectures on her recent research in Italy. Though limited to specific areas, rather than examples from all periods in art history as I had imagined, she presented cases from her research in such a manner that, in addition to being incredibly interesting, Professor Catterson’s examples from her research journey helped the class to learn about how to do research on our own. It was so exciting to be able to actually work with pieces of art- we were able to really get to know our items (and touch them!), which made it feel like our studies were actually real and not just theoretical. Our research took us to museum archives and libraries and put us in contact with people in and out of the art industry from all over the world. The course is a practical exercise in art history and many of the students found out new information about our objects that hadn't been documented before We took three trips out of the classroom- to The Frick, Bonhams, and The Morgan. Each visit was incredibly informative and gave us a new perspective on each of the institutions. The access and information gained from these trips is something that I never imagined I would ever be able to experience as a student. Professor Catterson is one of, if not the, best instructors I have had at Columbia and it is lamentable that she does not teach more classes. She is a rare exception in that she really cares about her students- we were her focus for the duration of the course, rather than nuisances. I felt that she truly believed that we were all doing something worthwhile, not just pithy undergraduate work like some professors seem to see it as. Any e-mails were promptly responded to (and I’m sure there were a lot); she would give reasonable explanations for her delay if they weren’t. If there was something the students could not get access to, Professor Catterson would use her knowledge and connections to help us get what we needed- truly above and beyond. She is honest, passionate, and inspiring- I truly can’t say enough about how fortunate I felt to have studied under her. Her outlook on art history in general and her dedication to her students is absolutely refreshing. I urge every art history student to try and take a class with Professor Catterson.

Feb 2015

Honestly, this was probably the most useful, hands-on class I've taken in my four years as an Art History major at Columbia. Not only is Lynn a fantastic professor (engaging, stimulating, thoughtful, and extremely knowledgeable), but the course itself was a critical (and fun!) exploration of questions we don't examine often enough in other Art History classes at Columbia. The authenticity of artworks is something we all too often take for granted in the field, and this class forced me to adjust my eye, so to speak; to look at art afresh by revaluating the primary material itself. We discussed how authenticity is measured and determined, from connoisseurship to provenance research to forensic examinations (a discipline less practical than one might imagine!). Lynn always used specific – and fascinating – case studies to illustrate these complexities and conundrums. Lots of exciting stuff came up while unpicking these examples, of course – discussion of real-world fakes and copies and how to spot them, even with an untrained eye. Very often the case studies came from Lynn’s own career, which not only meant we were getting all the information first-hand and from the most knowledgeable source possible (and often got to see her as-yet unpublished work too, which was fascinating) but also that we got a glimpse into the field of authentication. (It sounds like an academic treasure hunt: about equal parts sitting in archives sorting through irrelevant and/or tedious material, and discovering wonderful, mind-boggling things that have a real-world impact.) The final project of the class was a 30-40pg research paper (tailored to your specific interests) delving into the provenance of an art object of your choice. I chose to work at the Frick Collection, and a whole world was opened up for me because of it. I learnt the ins and outs of archival work and many valuable skills I will carry with me for use in my professional life. And it was fun! Stumbling across the gems scattered here and there made the hours spent in the Met’s Watson Library and the Frick’s Art Reference Library feel totally worth it. There's also the added bonus of feeling like your paper actually MEANS something: my provenance research discovered things about Frick artworks that the museum itself was not aware of, and in this regard I got to feel like I contributed in a tangible way to a field I'm passionate about (possibly for the first time in my life). We also took some amazing field trips throughout the semester. My favourites were those at the Frick (where we were given a personal tour by some of the curators and got to explore the Collection's private vault) and Bonhams Auction House (where the head authenticator told us about the difficulties and practicalities of authenticating art when massive amounts of money are involved). But overall I think I enjoyed class-time even more: it was hours of listening to a leading authority speak passionately about a really interesting field most people know very little about. TL;DR: The class has made me critical, in the healthiest possible way, about things I had taken for granted in the field of Art History. I genuinely believe I now look at artworks with a more critical eye than before, and Lynn is worth having as a teacher if for that skill alone. But also she’s great and the paper is great and you should take the class!

Aug 2013

Professor Catterson is an excellent professor. I took her course on Authenticity this summer and she provided her students not only with frameworks for which to view questions of art and authenticity but with cite visits to curatorial departments in excellent museums so that we would understand how the processes of authenticating an art object really works. Professor Catterson is incredibly knowledgable in her field of expertise and she is an engaging, encouraging, and wonderful teacher.

Dec 2011

I waited until graduation (end of Fall 2011) to write this review so I could definitively say that Lynn is my favorite Columbia professor. Her enthusiasm and vibrant teaching style is unmatched. The sole assignment for the course was a research project. I found myself thinking about the research constantly; so invigorating was her teaching about the subject. Just today I thought again about the project and Lynn's teaching, some four months after the end of her course. Do yourself a favor and take anything she offers.