Since the introduction in 1998 of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Looted Art—guidelines for dealing with cultural objects that had not yet been returned to their rightful owners—museums and other art world institutions have increasingly recognized the importance of conducting provenance research on their own collections and on works of art that otherwise pass through their hands. More and more museums are dedicating resources to due diligence research, and a handful of US museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, have created positions devoted specifically to this task. Still, much work remains to be done, as looted art is newly uncovered and previously unavailable primary source documents come to light, requiring the art world to approach provenance research as an ongoing and dynamic undertaking.
World War II-era provenance research is particularly complicated because of the potential for claims and the intricacies involved in such cases, and because museums, auction houses, and collectors may not have the resources (or the interest) necessary to sufficiently confront the issues that often surround Nazi-looted art. All of this is complicated by the fact that provenance and provenance research are rarely black and white: the historical record can be interpreted and misinterpreted in any number of ways, which only serves to make the facts and subsequent moral determinations that much more difficult to establish.
This symposium will look at the issues of provenance research and due diligence from the perspectives of four different spheres within the art world: independent research/consulting, museums, auction houses, and the legal field. A representative from each area will speak about issues relating to provenance within the context of his or her own experience. Speakers include: Laurie Stein, independent provenance researcher; MaryKate Cleary, Art Recovery International (formerly at The Museum of Modern Art, New York); Lucian Simmons, Sotheby’s, New York; and Lawrence Kaye, Herrick, Feinstein, LLP, New York. A panel discussion, led by Stephen J. Knerly, Hahn Loeser, Parks, LLP, Cleveland, will follow, providing a platform for the speakers to examine the interactions between their respective fields as well as an opportunity for the audience to participate in the conversation about the importance of provenance research, its impact, and the ways in which it can be problematic for all those involved.
Free; registration recommended. Register online at tickets.clevelandart.org or by calling the ticket center at (216) 421-7350.
The symposium is funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment from the Arts awarded to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2014.