SAVING FACE BY REBECCA FENNINGA Monthly - Weekend With Shades - Column
We have all read, no doubt, those news stories about formerly looted (or otherwise questionably acquired) artworks being discovered in museums, and the litigation that ensues as former owners sue for their return. The case of the Bloch-Bauer Klimts or the ongoing dispute over Roman antiquities between the J. Paul Getty Museum and Italy are two such cases, and both of them hinge on a basic principle of collecting: provenance. Provenance is, quite simply, where something has been. Museums, libraries, archives, and other serious collectors record and research the origins and ownership histories of the things they own because of what these pieces of information add to their collections' value and integrity. Knowing the circumstances of a sculpture’s creation, who owned it and at what auctions it traded hands can prove (or disprove) its authenticity, and therefore establish its literal value. But this knowledge also contributes to a greater understanding of the object’s context in history and its significance beyond the information written on its pages or painted on its surface.