Glossary: Collecting History

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I came across an excellent point during my reading: some art professionals propose that the term “collecting history” is more relevant than “provenance”, and should be strictly used for accuracy. The argument is that “provenance” is too vague, that it refers only to an object’s origins, and that what is more crucial is its history since. Collecting history means (or should mean) a complete record of ownership from a piece’s creation or discovery to the present. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Value of Unprovenanced Antiquities

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

“Regarding the issue of unprovenanced antiquities: surely even without substantiated provenance, there is still some factual knowledge to be derived– the approximate age of the item, for instance, and its general geographic origin? As a layperson in this area, I understand the additional value of confirmed provenance, but should that also mean that an item lacking provenance has no value at all?”

This was a great question in response to my last post, discussing a magazine editorial on scholarship, ethics, and artefacts lacking in proper archaeological provenance. (An unprovenanced artefact is one with an incomplete or unscientific record of its origin). The one-sentence answer is yes, there is always something to be gained from any existing piece. The more complete, complex answer has to do with the importance of knowledge and the nature of scientific inquiry. In archaeology, consider provenance another word for context. The moment something is pulled out of the ground, 90 percent of its meaning is lost.

Continue reading

Unprovenanced Artifacts—Publish or Perish?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click to read the editorial

Click to read the editorial

This editorial from the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review does an excellent job of summarizing the concerns raised by studying artefacts that were inadequately, improperly, or even illegally excavated. Within this example, comparing two scholarly books, author Hershel Shenks outlines every major problem currently being debated; I highly recommend it as a brief introduction to a typically abstruse discussion.

What to Do with Unprovenanced Artifacts—Publish or Perish?

Continue reading

New Year, New Questions

Tags

, , , , , ,

Click to visit the Gallery of Stolen Art on Pinterest

Click to visit the Gallery of Stolen Art on Pinterest

My first few months on A Year in Provenance have been mostly devoted to sharing information, plus a few personal ideas. This year, perhaps the goal should be to make things more personal. The starched collar of academic training will always wrap ’round its disciples’ work, demanding loyalty to the objective fact, free from private feelings and bias; in an academic setting, that is its strength. But a blog is a different animal— its strength is in its flexibility, its presence in everyday life, and its possibility of rapid and diverse dialogue. I want to explore more of these features this year. Continue reading

Artistic Pinspiration!

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

vermeer_the_concert_new Practical people, on hearing that one’s chosen field is something like art history or anthropology, will often ask (perhaps not unreasonably), “but what can you do with that?”. If an archaeologist or other rare species seems frustrated by the question, it is not for lack of an answer, but rather, because the questioner is missing the point. No one plunges deeply into an abstract academic profession because a magazine article listed it in “Top Ten Careers for Wealth and Prestige”; we do it because we love it. When I was a student, and still now when I work, whenever I get caught up in the effort, or am sick of stumbling on a problem-block, I always come back to the art, and am always cured. An hour in a gallery, or a museum, alone with something a thousand years old, and the wonder, the amazement at humankind and its history remind me why I wanted to do this. Continue reading

Archaeology, Anthropology, Terminology

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I got a request to define the most fundamental terms used on this blog, and it made an excellent point. Within any specialty, one usually talks to other specialists— the most basic terms can be taken for granted, and the pursuit of complex concepts can conveniently overshadow more elemental ones. In answer, the Glossary Feature will bravely take on archaeology itself, and try to tackle not only its definition, but its meaning.

Is

Archaeology/archeology n. The systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery. Continue reading

The Problem of Public Awareness

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

It is in the nature of research to take one in unexpected directions; what I was not prepared for was a single, simple idea that struck to the heart of a major problem of art crime. I was working on a post recently on how to recognise and protect archaeological sites for the general public; especially in North America, sites can be very hard to detect on the surface and artefacts hard to identify. Sometimes sites are damaged by people who don’t even realise they are on top of archaeology. Trying to develop a simple explanation of what sites and artefacts might look like, I realised I had a deeper question: what might be the consequences if I did? Continue reading

Links: ARCA

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Association for Research Into Crimes Against Art is an important international organisation doing exactly what the name suggests, and their site is highly recommended. Conceived as a think tank, it connects professionals from the varied disciplines relevant to art crime worldwide, promotes scholarship, and emphasizes public outreach. The group organises conferences and training in interdisciplinary research, publishes, and keeps a blog on recent media relevant to art crime. It also has outstanding links to more specialised blogs and sites.

Click here or above to go to ARCA’s site.

 

Authenticity and Value

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

After my last post, on forgery, I found myself still thinking about the meaning of authenticity, and the questions it raises; questions for which I have no answers. During the 19th century, it was common for art, especially sculpture, to be “restored” to make it more beautiful. Broken-off pieces like arms, feet, even heads, would be replaced with new pieces and seamlessly added to statues, with little concern for the piece’s original composition. The intent was usually not to produce an accurate restoration, but to make the piece as aesthetically pleasing as possible, according to the standards of the day. Many such pieces are now considered hopelessly inaccurate, not just because of modern knowledge, but by modern standards. In other centuries, a work of art’s great value lay in its beauty; in ours, art’s greatest value is in its authenticity. Continue reading

Glossary: Forgery

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

At first glance, the word forgery seems unnecessary for a specialised glossary; it’s a common word, readily understood. The briefest definition I found was: (n.) the action of forging or producing a copy of a document, signature, banknote, or work of art. But as a strict definition, couldn’t that apply to a museum gift shop print? The next dictionary was clearer: (n.) 1) The act of forging, especially the illegal production of something counterfeit. 2) Something counterfeit, forged, or fraudulent. So it is not enough that something be a copy, it must be a copy intended to deceive. But how does one determine intent when looking at an object? The definition of forgery may be simple on its face, but in the context of art, its meaning is complex. Continue reading