Proving Exhibition Of Digital Art in the Physical World

"An exhibition that was not published didn’t happen in 10 years time" – Pamela Joyner

Is your NFT art well-received? A track record of exposure at noteworthy galleries or museums underscores — and increases — its value.

If you can prove it. And here is where the problems start.

Offchain “proof” isn’t a binary—it’s a spectrum

Everything that happens on a blockchain is provable beyond doubt. In the off-chain world, establishing >99.99% proof is inherently difficult, if not outright impossible. To name only two examples where Web2 fails: link rot causes data decay, and pieces of evidence are prone to forgery, even more so with the rise of AI deep fakes. Providing proof of exhibition faces an extra challenge: many digital exhibitions happen at physical locations. How can we create a closed, verifiable chain of evidence from the physical location (say, a gallery in Venice) to the on-chain NFT?

Thankfully, Web3 innovations have led to powerful tools that bring us significantly closer to a 100% reliable proof of exhibition.

The three levels of proof

Every artifact — be it an object or an event — requires three parts layered on top of each other to prove that it happened:

  1. Declaration of a fact

  2. Evidence provided to support the declaration

  3. Verification of both from a party you trust (or an overwhelming social consensus)

Let me walk you through these levels of proving a fact to see why achieving 100% certainty for any proof outside the chain is not possible.

“I hereby declare that…”

Everything starts with a declaration. Someone claims that something is a fact, but this declaration is unproven. Anyone can declare anything to be true. “This NFT was exhibited at The MoMa.” Really, was it? Maybe you believe the person because of past experiences, but that trust doesn’t extend to everyone in the world.

To gain credibility, a declaration needs further support.

Show me the evidence!

Collecting evidence is the next level of proving a fact or a past event. Photos or videos might have recorded the fact, and a journalist or media outlet might mention it. The more evidence, the more plausible the fact.

Carrying pieces of evidence together might feel like solving a big puzzle, and every piece of evidence makes the puzzle more complete. But even Sherlock Holmes couldn’t just collect evidence to prove a murder. He had to interpret every piece, connect them together, and put them into the right context.

Yet, the murderer could have laid a false trace. Evidence can be forged. How many photos show an entirely made-up scene? How many counterfeit $100 bills are circulating right now? How many false certificates have been sealed and signed? How many false testimonies have been given under oath?

Moreover, evidence that is just circumstantial may lose its value if the original assumptions about the circumstances change.

Evidence must be trustworthy.

This may seem like a high-bar to demand, but we’ve seen elaborate hoaxes pulled in the web3 space. Entire founder teams have been made up to raise money from unsuspecting investors chasing the next hot deal.

How to verify evidence

A degen trader known for pump-and-dumping his bags claims to have seen Sam Spratt’s The Monument Game exhibited in Pyongyang. Would you believe him? Probably not.

Your best friend tells you that she has visited an exhibition in Venice to see The Monument Game. Would you believe her? Absolutely!

A trusted party, or social consensus from a larger group of people, can verify a declaration or a possible piece of evidence. Verifying the validity of a declaration or evidence elevates its trustworthiness.

Still, verifying evidence is not the same as an airtight proof. We may need to fact check the fact checkers, who could be paid off. A trusted party may hand you a written verification, but what does that prove to another person that you show that verification? To them, it’s not more than a possible piece of evidence.

We start running in circles!

The limits of Web2 become apparent here. Web2’s unreliability blocks everything that’s required for reliable provenance. Try to use Web2 technology to provide any of the following in a trusted way:

  1. Timestamps of events: When was data created or changed?

  2. Attribution: What is the nature of the data?

  3. Authorship: Who created the data? And can we trust that claim?

  4. Authenticity: Has the content been tampered with? Can anyone prove it?

These are the four main attributes of strong provenance. Web2 does not have the means to verify these attributes reliably. For reliable verification, Web2 would require an incorruptible, trustworthy verification system and permanent, immutable storage, which would be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve there. And we would be stuck relying on a trusted, centralized intermediary, which is a dependency that web3 desperately tries to remove.

How web3 elevates a proof to near-100% possibility.

The existence of an NFT and any NFT artifact that lives on a blockchain, such as transactions and their timestamps, can be proven without any doubt. If someone claims to possess an NFT for a year but the transaction on the chain happened only two months ago, you can instantly prove that claim wrong.

A blockchain cannot lie about its contents. It meticulously keeps records of what was added and when, and its design effectively prevents changing the history of data. Outside the chain, however, proofs are less credible.

Proofs live on a spectrum

As discussed earlier, proving an artifact's existence and identity is difficult if it exists outside the chain. Any of the three layers— declaration, evidence, and verification — must be evaluated with caution.

  • Declarations can be correct or wrong.

  • Evidence can be authentic or forged.

  • Verifications can be made by a trusted party, a party not trusted, or — in the worst case — an impersonator, resulting in unwarranted trust.

Every layer needs to be inspected separately, resulting in varying degrees of confidence. Therefore, every proof lives on a spectrum.

In the offline world, verification relies on central authorities like government institutions, authorized representatives like notaries, or reputable cultural entities like famous museums or galleries.

Web2 doesn’t do any better here, either. If you need a globally valid verification, you have two options:

  1. Rely on a central institution like a certificate authority. These institutions are only trustworthy until the next data breach. They are also permissioned, blocking out most of the population from participation.

  2. Seek some form of crowd-based proof by getting verification from communities. Here, you would rely on the amount of verification as a measurement of trustworthiness.

But in the end, even when acquiring one of those forms of verification, Web2 is inherently forgetful — as we discussed earlier —, and so even the best-effort verifications may deteriorate by being modified, tampered with, or even deleted.

Web3 takes a significant step forward from here.

How can we get away from the unreliable process of proving something without actually being able to prove anything?

Technically, a proof of exhibition consists of these parts:

  1. A cryptographically signed document in which the artist declares that the NFT was shown at a given exhibition.

  2. Evidence in the form of artifacts like social media posts with photos, videos, or audio, of which the artist takes immutable snapshots and signs these snapshots.

  3. A countersignature of the proof of exhibition, done by one or more trusted third parties.

  4. Permanent, timestamped storage of the signed document and evidence.

Taken together, these parts cover the four aforementioned attributes of provenance — timestamps, attribution, authorship, and authenticity — and ultimately deliver the strongest form of provenance. This is only possible because Web3 enables its users to sign and countersign artifacts and store them permanently and immutably.

Atomic Form is the easy path to creating a reliable proof of exhibition

It’s difficult to combine all these ingredients and steps manually, and it would be a chore to do this repeatedly for every new proof of exhibition.

This is why Atomic Form worked hard to create Atomic Lore, a service that turns a proof of exhibition into an easy-to-use, repeatable, consistent process with the necessary infrastructure already in place for you.

Atomic Lore provides the following:

  • Structured templates for attestation documents that an artist, collectors, and curators can fill out and sign with their wallet.

  • Workflow for capturing evidence and performing countersignatures.

  • Storage concept that ensures permanent, tamper-proof, timestamped, and readily available storage.

Everything, from the first declaration to the permanent storage, is available in one place.

We are working on making Atomic Lign universally available across blockchains and wallets to make signing off-chain artifacts safe and painless.


100% certainty is impossible to achieve — at least in this part of the universe and on Web2. Declarations of facts can be wrong, evidence can be forged, and verifications of evidence require a great deal of trust in the attesting party.

Web3 greatly reduces the reliance on trust by adding provable cryptography to the picture. By combining declarations of facts and evidence with cryptographically signed and countersigned attestation, securely saved and timestamped on an immutable ledger, we can achieve near-100% certainty for proofs of exhibition and any other proofs of off-chain digital artifacts.

To collect proof of exhibition for an NFT without hassle, try Atomic Lore.

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