Showing posts with label Lund Humphries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lund Humphries. Show all posts

November 19, 2020

"Provenance Research Today" book release to debut at the International Catalogue Raisonné Association conference


On December 3rd a new book called Provenance Research Today: Principles, Practice, Problems is being released by Lund Humphries, an independent imprint which publishes books on art, architecture, and design.  The book is divided into five sections with articles written by 20 contributors including book editor Judge Arthur Tompkins.  Judge Tompkins is a District Court Judge based in Wellington, New Zealand.  This is the third book he has worked on with Lund Humphries, the first being Art Crime and Its Prevention: A Handbook for Collectors which he also edited, and his own book, Plundering Beauty all of which deal with the subjects of art, crime, and plunder.  

Judge Tompkins was nice enough to talk with us about this upcoming book, giving us some further insight into the topic of provenance research.  We first asked what brought about the desire to develop a book on the topic of provenance; he stated that the idea first began during the process of writing his book Plundering Beauty saying that his research “triggered a realisation that the 'social life' of an artwork - where it had been, who had had it, how it got to where it now is, and all the twists and turns along the way - is always an unavoidably intrinsic part of a work of art, and cannot properly be ignored or overlooked when looking at or discussing or researching a work.”  

The first two sections of the book will delve into the ‘History, Purpose, and Challenges of Provenance Research’ and ‘Best Practices in Provenance Research’.  One of the challenges of provenance research today is that in the past it was often unnecessary, or even undesired, to ask for provenance details in the art world, and as such large institutions and collectors have many pieces with no known history.  

Building a provenance from nothing is a daunting prospect and the advice Judge Tompkins gives to institutions wishing to fill in the blanks in their collections is simply to “do the work!  Go down into the basements and the storage rooms and the off-site warehouses and blow the dust off and open the files, open the cupboards, pull out the drawers to see what's there, and then sit down and work out how it got there ... But I understand entirely that limited and stretched budgets, and limited time, conspire to make that difficult. Good provenance work is careful, detailed, painstaking, and time-consuming, and diverts resources of all kinds from other compelling demands on those same scarce resources.”  The difficulties of solving the mystery behind long-held pieces of art often fall secondary to the more pressing concerns of new acquisitions.   

The third section of the book discusses ‘Provenance Research, Museums, and the Art Market’.  The topic of proper provenance research and the art market is still a controversial issue.  Many auction houses do not require provenance history for their pieces.  We asked Judge Tompkins what he felt could be done to encourage better practice from institutions in this field.  His advice was directed towards buyers and collectors as he asks them to “ignore pieces offered for sale without a full and proper provenance.  If such offerings are publicly highlighted and appropriately criticized, and then remain unsold (if not pulled from sale before being offered), then gradually vendors will be compelled both to research their own holdings and to make provenances public.”  At the end of the day, the disapproval of the academic community will not mean as much to them as the loss of income from suspect pieces with no previous collection history, that buyers walk away from. 

The final two sections deal with two of the areas which are most complex to deal with in the world of provenance research today: ‘Nazi-era Provenance Research’ and ‘Provenance Research and the Illicit Antiquities Trade’.  We asked Judge Tompkins to elaborate on the issues faced with provenance research in these areas.  He explained that “with respect to Nazi-era issues, the relentless march of times inevitably obscures or conceals a lot of evidence, and institutional inertia (or an unwillingness substantively to confront and acknowledge a tragic past, although that is slowly changing) often compounds the problems.”  

The issues faced with the illicit antiquities trade are very different, he explained that “with respect to antiquities, any form of provenance is often completely missing, especially for plundered and smuggled antiquities deriving from looted archaeological sites, including graves, in war zones or areas of conflict.”  The end goal of provenance research in these two scenarios is often the restitution of the items to their proper owners, heirs, or country of origin.  

Because of Judge Tompkins’ legal expertise, we asked him what he felt was the biggest legal gap needed to overcome with regards to restitution.  He responded that “the irreconcilable inconsistency between how (to adopt a very broad generalisation) the common law and civil law worlds treat prior ownership and/or possession of a stolen work.  The common law world (including the USA, the UK, and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) generally rule that a thief cannot convey good title, no matter what happens after the theft, whereas the civil law world (most of Europe and other Napoleonic Code countries) say that a genuine and honest subsequent buyer can get good title, despite an original theft.  Given that most legal issues involving an artwork have to be resolved in the national courts of the place where that artwork ends up, that can often be an insurmountable legal hurdle for a claimant to overcome - even if they know an artwork has ended up there, in the first place, which is often down to sheer luck.”  The process of restitution of artworks is long and complicated and continues to be an important topic of discussion in the art world.  

This book release coincides with the International Catalogue Raisonné Association’s annual conference on the 3rd of December which will feature a series of lectures on the topic of Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.  Given the current pandemic, the conference will be held virtually this year and includes presentations from twenty-one leading scholars and experts from around the world.  


The program will run from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM CET with sessions on various topics including: A How-to Guide to Research Techniques, Restitution: Research Questions and Perspectives, the Legal, Moral and Ethical Implications of Provenance Research, Provenance in Museums, Artists’ Estates and their Approach to Provenance, and the Future of Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.  Tickets for the event are available through Eventbrite for £100, this fee is waived for ICRA members, students, and the unemployed.


Link to purchase book: Provenance Research Today.
 

Link to the book's Table of Contents.

Link to the ICRA Event info for: Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.

By: Lynette Turnblom