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August 1, 2011

Sarah Zimmer on “The Investigation of Object TH 1988.18: Rembrandt’s 100 Guilder Print”

By Kirsten Hower, ARCA Intern

Sarah Zimmer is a part-time faculty member at the Art Institute of Michigan’s Photography department and teaches both art history and studio art. Her experience ranges from fine art exhibitions to art history to museum work, on which her presentation, “The Investigation of Object TH 1988.18: Rembrandt’s 100 Guilder Print,” is based. While working in the archive of a museum, Zimmer discovered that an etching by Rembrandt was missing and then proceeded to investigate its disappearance. Her investigation, which included emailing former directors of the museum and anyone that may have an idea of where the print disappeared to, led to an interesting turn when she was asked to halt all investigation into this mystery.

Rather than completely forgetting the project, Zimmer was driven to investigate the value of this particular print and the value of works to museums. A contemporary artist with no prior knowledge of Rembrandt’s “worth,” she was intrigued by the question of: “What is the value of this museum protecting this secret when the value of the work may be minimal?” Using her artistic training, Zimmer delved into the realms of forgery to recreate the Rembrandt print along with provenance documents for an exhibition examining the value of a work and where the value lies. “I’m attempting to understand the value of the work, whether it’s monetary value or assigned value. Whether it’s the name that counts or the functional value of depicting a story.” Zimmer’s exhibition was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit in 2010 and also in Chicago.

Not inclined to completely let go of the project, Zimmer is still interested in examining the value that museums place on works and what value society places on works of art, such as “How we’ve made Rembrandt, the name, a commodity.” Though she no longer works for the museum, from which this print went missing, Sarah stated that, “the true crime was the institution depriving us of information and not allowing us to continue our investigation.” Of the multiple missing works that Zimmer investigated while working at this museum, the Rembrandt is the only one that raised the attention of the institution to cease research into its whereabouts. Zimmer is still pursuing research into the value that is placed on works by museums and the art community.