Regardless of where the fracture lines are drawn in the art world over the questions of provenance, due diligence and restitution, the May 6-7, 2011, seminar in Washington, DC, did highlight the wealth of information that now exists at one’s fingertips.
Much was jokingly said about being able to conduct hours of research from the comfort of one’s bed. As silly as that might sound, it’s not far from the truth, up to a point.
The International Research Portal hailed as a major breakthrough in research on art looting is not a major breakthrough, but it is a significant step forward towards making such resources more available to individuals and institutions far and wide in search of pertinent documentation. In large part, the Portal itself provides access to finding aids and, to a far lesser extent, scanned versions of archival documents, and then it’s mostly pay-for-access.
However, the better news lies in the increasing power of art-historical databases in a variety of museums and research institutes both in the United States and Europe, and as far as the Ukraine. The combined strength of those databases covers close to half-a-million objects which is nothing to sneeze at.
Also, a number of institutions such as the Frick Art Reference Library and the Archives of American Art have made major strides in focusing their efforts on access to collections of private dealers, art historians, and artists of direct relevance to research focused on the 1930s to the 1950s. If you add to those the on-line art historical resources available in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Austria, a movement is afoot towards more comprehensive research possibilities.
And yet, the skeptic rears his ugly head and wonders how to make sense out of all these resources.
One way of doing so is to provide the kind of research assistance to anyone seeking it and which has been sorely lacking to date as well as methodological pointers on how to approach complex forensic research on looted art and, more specifically, how to contextualize the raw data so as to make sense out of them.
For that and many other reasons, and yes! you heard it here, this blog will devote much of its energy to illustrating how to conduct historical/forensic research into the history of objects that might have been looted during the fateful Nazi/Fascist years. It might not happen every day, but we will do our very best to address this issue at least once a week.