01 July 2013

In praise of future collaborative endeavors through provenance research training workshops

Preparations are currently under way to organize a third provenance research training workshop (the first two were in Magdeburg, Germany, and in Zagreb, Croatia) under the aegis of the Prague-based European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) and the New York-based Claims Conference. It is scheduled to take place in the first week of December 2013.

Lostart.de of the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, Source: Aachener Zeitung
Until then, it is worth reviewing some of the more unusual by-products of bringing together for one intensive week thirty or so men and women of all ages who hail from more than a dozen countries… to discuss provenance research, art looting, restitution problems, collections management, forensic methods, Kultur, and any other topic that stimulates one’s interest in such a fulcrum of debate and exchange…:

Hrvatski drzavni arhiv, Source: HDA

This international workshop allows participants, instructors, and specialists to exchange, discuss, argue, disagree, lament, applaud, question, and otherwise engage in dialogue for approximately 50 hours spread out over six days.

Greater awareness

Participants report how the provenance research workshop has influenced the way in which they approach the history of art objects. Others have indicated the need to modify the questions that they ask when faced with problematic provenances. Still more have recognized the importance of historical context when trying to answer that nagging question: who really owns the object?

New paths of research and inquiry

This category applies mostly, but not exclusively, to the undergraduate and graduate students from universities and colleges on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean who attended the Magdeburg (June 2012) and Zagreb (March 2013) workshops. Some indicated how the workshop encouraged them to re-think basic assumptions that they had held about their various lines of inquiry pertaining to the displacement of art objects during the Nazi years. Others chose to examine new topics when they returned to their respective institutions of higher learning. In short, the stimulus produced by a week’s worth of intellectual discourse and exchange hit the mark.
Muzejski dokumentacijski centar, Source: MDC


The international provenance workshops do provide a unique moment to “network” in close quarters under controlled conditions. What is the end result? New chemistry, different bonds, yielding fruitful outcomes, new friendships, new sources of information, new knowledge… novelty and renewed commitments to make things better… as in proposing amendments to existing laws, facilitating recoveries of art objects, keeping current on on-going investigations into art crimes, assessing future possibilities to cooperate, realizing that research interests overlap, working together, sharing information...across cultures and disciplines, whether from North America, Western Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, other parts of Europe and the Middle East.