Monday, July 26, 2010

Collecting histories and intellectual consequences for the study of the past

I have recently published a research paper on the issue of collecting histories. The work reminded me about the possibility of falsifying find-spots and "provenance".

At the end of last week I received an email from a major North American museum in response to a request for the collecting history of a specific piece. I found it very interesting that I was pointed to a dealer's catalogue entry complete with a statement about the possible finding of the piece in a 19th century "excavation" at a particular site.

If that information was correct it could be significant. And I suspect that there are some who work in this area will be wanting to link the object in question with this site. But what if the piece of sculpture was not found where it was said? What are the intellectual consequences?

This reminds me that statements about old collections or reported find-spots need to be qualified with the source. What is the basis for this knowledge? Who provided the information? Is the statement reliable? Is it potentially misleading?

I have written back to the museum asking for clarification, partly because I have some contradictory information on the same piece. I have also written to one of the dealers who handled the piece to see if the gallery concerned can shed a little light on the issue.

Image
From a dealer's archive.

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