Magnus: when the art world meets Big Data

Described by the media as a Shazam for Art, the Magnus app lets you find out about a work’s origins and history just from an ordinary photograph. A revolution in the art world and new insurance risks in the offing…Here we check out Magnus, an app with two sides.


A unique database for the art world

From the moment you enter the world of Magnus, the website gets straight to the point: “Our mission is to democratize access to the art world”. Young German entrepreneur Magnus Resch set himself this ambitious target when he created and developed his Magnus app.

Before the app could be launched, he had to undertake the monumental task of collecting data from galleries and auction rooms – as well as through Wikipedia-style collaborative efforts.

The resulting database means that all users have to do is access the app and take a photo of a work they are admiring in a museum or art gallery. That’s when the magic happens: moments later, various items of information are displayed, including:

  • Title of the work
  • Name of the artist
  • Its history

And what’s even better is that it also provides the latest prices achieved by similar works at auction and whether they can be found in nearby galleries, as the way Magnus operates is partly based on geolocation as well as collaboration.


Source of information – or source of risk?

When we conduct investigations, particularly with respect to specie objects, we have to assess, compare and calculate the value of the pieces in question. The database offered by this application could be extremely useful in such cases, helping us to find pieces of the puzzle directly and thus saving us much precious time.

However, despite the apparent usefulness of being able to access such information at the press of a button, there are a number of problems. Magnus only provides data on contemporary art – currently art that is in New York, soon to be followed by art in London and Berlin. Over the past decade, the contemporary art market has seen constant growth – but no-one knows when this speculative bubble is going to either reach its limit – or burst. Knowing the excesses of this market, what kind of success can such a significant database about it have?

There are a number of possible answers, but all of them are primarily to do with the app’s two main functions, i.e. collaboration and geolocation.

How can such a huge volume of data be checked when anyone can add to it? There is a far from negligible risk that information about works acquired by private collectors might become public knowledge.

This would have numerous consequences. When combined with geolocation, information such as this, about a work that is in the possession of a private individual, could prove to be tempting and make theft easier to accomplish.

With this in mind, insurers will have to rethink their position and offer new cover to reduce such risks, whilst legislators will have to determine what controls can be introduced and what recourse there may be against the publishers of these new applications and their contributors.

There are two sides to Magnus. One is a tool for loss adjusters, an extra database to consult; the other is a source of risk. Either way, loss adjusters will have to get to know these new tools, both to supplement their expertise and to guard against the risks they engender.


Camille BONNET & Diane MACCURY, Specie Loss Adjusters

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