November 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection & Provenance Research: A Perspective from Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Training Research Program

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor

I sought out the perspective of Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Research Training Program which will have a new session in Rome next month, on the Kunstmuseum Bern announcement regarding acceptance of the Gurlitt art bequest and its willingness to conduct research to determine if some works had been stolen during the Nazi-era (commonly accepted as 1933-1945).

Q: Today and agreement was reached that the Kunstmuseum Bern would conduct provenance research on the Gurlitt collection before moving the artworks from Germany to Switzerland. What is the process as you understand and what do you anticipate as the strengths and weaknesses?
MM: I thought Germany would handle the provenance. That's how I interpret most press reports from this morning. 
If this is correct, the research is being conducted by individuals hired by the German government under the auspices of the Gurlitt Task Force. 
Frankly, no one is certain about how the research is being conducted. If it were left to us, you'd have to make three distinct piles: auction acquisitions in the Reich, works de-accessioned from German State museums, and works acquired in occupied territories. Those piles lead you to different archives.  The most complex are the French records for works acquired in German-occupied France.  The fundamental weakness behind this process is its opacity and the refusal of the Germans to expand the scope of the research and reach out to those who know a thing or two about these types of losses.  From what we hear, there are only a handful of individuals covering the French archives.
Last but not least, the most complex items to research are the works on paper and especially prints and lithographs.  Who knows where those came from?  To ascertain whether or not they were looted, one would have to go through all files representing losses suffered by victims in France.  The task is staggeringly tedious and complex.


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