The Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. connects researchers and experts internationally working in public and private institutions, art dealers, in academia or on a freelance basis in order to research the provenance of cultural assets. The research focus lies in particular on objects confiscated due to Nazi persecution, objects seized within the Soviet occupation zone or the GDR, as well as objects collected within a colonial context. During the annual general meeting and a symposium with invited guests held in Berlin between 12 and 14 November 2018, 177 of the 275 members of the Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. from Austria, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States met to discuss the basic principles and progress made within the field in addition to challenges and desires for the future.
Twenty years after the declaration of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art (1998), provenance research is an integral part of museum work but also the workings of libraries, archives, and the art market. In addition to the identification of so-called unlawfully appropriated goods, this research also furthers knowledge about the history of collections and institutions, to understand the processes of authentication, (value) attribution, manifestation, or appropriation of what is defined as cultural property today. Moreover, provenance research has long been part of academic and non-academic research and instruction. The humanities also draw on insights provided by provenance research in their studies on the Holocaust. Similarly, studies in art history and art sociology often use provenance research to investigate aspects of translocation and the formation of taste.
Against this backdrop, the Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. is committed to improving the working conditions at public and private institutions which engage researchers predominantly on short-term contracts as part of third-party funded projects, thereby jeopardizing the sustainability of the project and the long-term documentation of research results. In addition, the working group appeals to the federal government, the government of the federal states as well as local authorities to amplify their efforts to promote research infrastructures, including digital ones.
Goal-oriented provenance research can only be carried out with adequately organized source documentation and the identification of additional archival holdings. At the same time, newly generated knowledge stemming from recent interdisciplinary projects needs to be recorded and shared in a transparent fashion.
The principal aim here is to concentrate? core competencies as well as expertise. For this reason, the Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. in the future will become increasingly involved in terms of questions of project content and in working groups which will, for example, examine methodological approaches, digital provenance research, or the identification of extraordinary source materials. For the long term, researchers will only be able to meet the extremely diverse demands placed on their work within the framework of decidedly improved working conditions and structures.
Meike Hopp (Chairwoman), Sven Haase, Christian Klösch, Carolin Lange and Johanna Poltermann
Board of the Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V.