The Values of Provenance, Session, 5th Swiss Congress for Art History, Zurich, 22-24 June 2022

Events and Conferences

Provenance information can significantly increase or diminish an artwork’s intrinsic and monetary value. While a “good” or “interesting” provenance is prone to be explored and advertised, “uninteresting” or “contaminated” provenances are often ignored or even suppressed. Such selective approaches to provenance information, today perceived as arbitrary, not only pertain to the art market, they are also known from public and private collecting.

What is more, the relative weight given to provenance information has in itself been subject to momentous revaluations in the course of time. While some periods tended to marginalize its significance, others generally stressed the importance of provenance information. Ideological currents and historic developments not only drive the physical migration of cultural property, they also convey sweeping positive or negative connotations to the resulting object histories – connotations which may in themselves be subject to later revisions.

The approach of the market and art collectors to provenance information is clearly affected by such tectonic shifts. Until the end of the twentieth century, for instance, provenance information and research was a marginal affair. Today, however, discussions over cultural property looted by the Nazis or from colonial territories have brought this category to the fore. This session seeks to explore and illustrate the changes in the status of provenance information, not only in recent decades, but also in earlier times. It welcomes both surveys and case studies which might for example touch on points of interest such as:

• the dissolution of aristocratic collections and shifts in the prestige of provenance;

• provenance accepted as a guarantor of discernment and authenticity; 

• provenance information and the revaluations of triumphs and tragedies in war and conquest; 

• changing approaches to provenance information in the literature on art and databases; 

• changes in the treatment of provenance information in displays and collection catalogues; 

• changes in the art market’s handling of provenance information; 

• connoisseurship and its changing approaches to provenance information; 

• object and collection histories illustrating changing approaches to the handling of provenance information.

Conveners of this session: Christian Huemer, Belvedere Research Center, Vienna / TIAMSA – The International Art Market Studies Association, and Johannes Nathan, Nathan Fine Art, Zurich/Potsdam / TIAMSA – The International Art Market Studies Association

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers in German, English, French, and Italian, in the hope to reflect the topical and institutional diversity of the field and foster young academics. Acceptance decisions will be made by the conveners of the individual sessions, supervised by the academic advisory council of the 5th Swiss Congress for Art History.

Please send an abstract (1 page, max. 3000 characters) and a short curriculum vitae including institutional affiliation and contact details to chair@artmarketstudies.org (Johannes Nathan) by 18 June 2021. Please also CC the organization office of the 5th Swiss Congress for Art History in Zurich at vkks2022@khist.uzh.ch. The VKKS will contribute to accommodation costs, and all speakers will be exempt from the conference registration fee.

The 5th Swiss Congress for Art History will be held in Zurich from 22 to 24 June 2022. Organized jointly by the Swiss Association of Art Historians (VKKS) and the Institute for Art History of the University of Zurich (Kunsthistorisches Institut der Universität Zürich), the Congress is aimed at art historians, art researchers and experts from all fields (including both practice and theory), and all institutions.

Congress website: https://www.vkks.ch/de/aktivitaeten/kongresse

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