OverviewProvenance and Restitution have become two of the most urgent and frequently cited terms in the global art market, in museology, and in cultural politics more generally. The two terms are in some ways interconnected since claims for the restitution of cultural objects — whether from former imperial nations, from museums, from private collectors, or from other art market participants — invariably require some form of provenance research in order to confirm the ownership history and thus the legal status of the objects in question. Such scrutiny has long been of critical importance when applied to so-called ‘Holocaust Assets’ — works seized by the Nazis in the Second World War. More recently, following the Black Lives Matter movement that triggered a deeper interrogation of the colonial past, such scrutiny has been informally extended to encompass a broader range of objects in both the public and private realms. While provenance research does not set out to establish the authenticity of a work of art, the discovery of a complete and documented ownership history can often contribute to a work’s authenticity and thus its historical and market value.
Geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East have also brought unprecedented quantities of illicit antiquities on to the global art market in recent decades, many of which are now subject to more rigorous legal and ethical scrutiny than ever before. Similarly, the continued looting of objects from ancient sites in South East Asia has reinforced the importance of a clear understanding of the concepts of Provenance and Restitution.
The course will be split into two separate components over two weeks. Each week will comprise two 1.5hr sessions held over two days.
By the end of the course, students will:
- Be familiar with the critical importance of Provenance Research in securing the ownership history of high-value assets on the international art market, together with the implications of failing to do so.
- Have gained insights into the range of academic disciplines and methodologies used in Provenance Research and how certain art market categories present specific challenges for researchers.
- Have a clear understanding of four terms commonly used in cultural object debates, namely: Restitution; Repatriation; Return, and Reunification and how these are often used interchangeably but should be considered more selectively when discussing the legal, ethical, moral, or aesthetic implications of particular object categories.
- Understand the contrasting issues and international legal instruments governing the debates over, for example, the Parthenon Marbles, the Benin bronzes, the Maqdala Treasure, human remains, Holocaust Assets, and so on.