Object Lessons: German and American Perspectives on Provenance Research of the Colonial and Nazi Eras

Saturday, October 26, 2019, 10:30am - 1:30pm
Panel Discussion at the GHI
Panelists: Mirjam Brusius (German Historical Institute London), Bronwyn Campbell (National Gallery of Australia), Raphael Gross (Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin), Christine Kreamer (National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution), H. Glenn Penny (University of Iowa), Hilke Thode-Arora (Museum der Fünf Kontinente, Munich, and 2018 PREP Guest Speaker), and moderated by Irene Bald Romano (University of Arizona, and 2018 PREP participant)

Co-organized by the GHI Washington, Smithsonian Institution, and Goethe Institut, Washington, DC

Click on image to enlarge or print (pdf) the poster.

Provenance researchers face the challenge of uncovering the complicated, often centuries-long history of works of art and other cultural objects. The media have focused public attention on provenance research and restitution debates concerning objects, especially paintings, that were looted during the Nazi era. But provenance research also encompasses the history of objects from archaeological contexts, human remains, and ethnological collections world-wide. There is growing social and political impetus in Germany and France to confront uncomfortable histories of colonial rule, including the acquisition of museum collections during this period. The creation of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin has highlighted the role and responsibilities of museums and the cultural community to acknowledge and find “just solutions” to the wrongs of the past. Provenance research is an important step in a process that might lead to a variety of outcomess, including restitution/repatriation to individuals, countries of origin, or descendant communities.

What can provenance researchers of Nazi-era looted objects learn from those who study collections acquired under colonial rule, and vice versa? How far do the methodologies and challenges of museum professionals and researchers dealing with colonial period- and Nazi-era collections overlap? What new insights can we gain from the study of the provenance of objects of all categories, and how might these be applied to advancing scholarly discourse, public debates, and solutions regarding Nazi-era and colonial objects? 

This panel discussion brings together eminent historians, archaeologists, ethnologists, and museum professionals to share their perspectives on the challenging historical, legal, ethical, philosophical, and practical issues surrounding works of art and objects acquired under colonial and Nazi rule.  

This panel discussion has been organized in conjunction with the 6th German/American Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP), which brings together museum professionals from both sides of the Atlantic specializing in World War II-era provenance projects.

The panel discussion will be followed by a light lunch at the GHI.