This book goes beyond the narrow definition of the term provenance, which addresses only the bare facts of ownership and transfer, to explore ideas about the origins and itineraries of objects, consider the historical uses of provenance research, and draw attention to the transformative power of ownership. The result is a volume of essays that makes a strong case for recuperating provenance—what contributing author Anne Higonnet calls “so many epic tales compressed into such dry lists”—for the history of art. Provenance attends to the social life of art, a work's biography subsequent to the moment of its origin.
Provenance: An Alternate History of Art offers a broad perspective that ranges from ancient archaeology to conceptual art, that encompasses Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and considers a variety of media. The essays demonstrate in myriad ways how an owner’s relationship with a work of art or, in varying degrees, with the object’s previous owners, can change irrevocably the way the work will be perceived and understood by future generations.
Limiting the scope of provenance to only the highly charged context of international legal custody battles or the painstakingly researched lists of names and dates in archives and catalogs is entirely insufficient to the richness of the subject. By considering provenance in its critical and theoretical dimensions, this volume endeavors to integrate this alternate narrative into art history.
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Gail Feigenbaum is associate director of the Getty Research Institute and the coeditor of Sacred Possessions: Collecting Italian Religious Art, 1500-1900 (Getty, 2011). Inge Reist is chief of research collections and programs and director of the Center for the History of Collecting in America at the Frick Art Reference Library of the Frick Collection, New York.Review:
“[This book] calls to move beyond the notion of provenance research as ‘a quiet, essentially antiquarian pursuit’ and to take a more interpretative approach.”—Art Newspaper, February 2014
“The focus is on the ‘transformative power of ownership’: the relationships between owners and the changes in the perception and reception of works due to their previous owners. . . . Taken as a whole, these essays can be thought of as the start of the conversation, and an invocation to art historians who have abandoned the study of the ‘social life’ of art.”—Choice
“The book has no shortage of riveting stories, like Anne Boleyn throwing a Hans Holbein the Younger painting, commissioned by King Henry VIII, out the window. . . . Of definite interest to art history departments, this collection is also applicable to museology and library science, particularly to the study of rare books.”—Art Libraries Society of North America
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