Provenance research on the collections of the MK&G
Provenance research on the collections of the MK&G
A MARBLE PANEL FROM THE AFGHAN ROYAL PALACE IN GHAZNI IN THE COLLECTION OF THE MK&G
On the 8th of October, the MK&G officially returns a marble dado panel to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Mr. Abdul Jabar Ariyaee, Chargé d’Affaires at the Afghan Embassy in Berlin, came to Hamburg to receive the panel from the museum. MK&G is one of the first German museums to return a work of art to Afghanistan. Beyond investigating Nazi art looting and the issue of colonial collections, the museum has been increasingly turning its attention to more recent acquisitions as well. The restitution of the panel is the result of research carried out on its provenance and represents yet a further example of the responsibility borne by museums and the international art trade for how objects from illicit excavations are handled. The marble dado panel once belonged to a 78-part frieze dating to the twelfth century that adorned the inner courtyard of the Royal Palace of Sultan Mas’ud III in the town of Ghazni, Afghanistan. In the late 1970s, it was stolen from Ghazni’s Rawza Museum of Islamic Art. Now, after years of research, assisted by scholars from the University of Hamburg and the Sapienza Universitá di Roma, as well as close cooperation between German and Afghan authorities, the panel can finally be handed back to its rightful owners. For the time being it will be kept in the Afghan National Museum in Kabul. MK&G reached out to the director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, to help resolve the issue of the panel. Since November 2018, the MK&G is displaying the marble panel in its permanent exhibition "Looted Art? Provenance Research on the Collections of the MK&G": The panel is presented already half-packed in a transport box set, ready to be returned. In volume 4 of its “Looted Art?” series, the MK&G summarizes the research conducted on the history of the panel’s loss and acquisition.
The Benin Bronzes
With three bronzes from Benin, the MK&G is opening another chapter of its exhibition series "Looted Art? Provenance Research on the Collections of the MK&G", an integral part of the visitor’s tour of the museum. MK&G has researched the origin story of these three Benin bronzes and also examined the role played by the museum’s founding director, Justus Brinckmann, in trading in such objects. The research results will be published. The bronzes are not considered works of art according to the European understanding of the term. In the culture of their home country, the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, the objects function to help lend people an identity. This circumstance demands that they be presented in an appropriate setting, which the MK&G is not able to do in the context of its collections. After their exhibition at MK&G, the bronzes will therefore be passed on to the Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK). This museum provides with its African collection and its objects from the Benin culture a fitting context for a respectful treatment of these works.
For the MK&G, Brinckmann considered only a few objects that exemplified an artisanal and artistic use of bronze. As the MK&G’s collection was also used for educational purposes, because the School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) was located on the museum’s property, the artisanal quality of the objects was a top priority. In the beginning of the 20th cen-tury, the School of Arts and Craft was relocated and therefore a similar didactic integration is lacking today. Today, we don’t know how and if the bronzes were exhibited at that time. Most recently, they were part of the epoch and culture over-lapping presentation of the MK&G’s collection titled "Body & Soul" in 2010. In 2012, they were temporarily accommodated within the newly arranged antiquity collection.
The Benin bronzes represent more than works of art in the European sense, as they also serve to constitute people’s identi-ties in their countries of origin. This circumstance demands that the objects be presented with the appropriate background, which the MK&G is not able to do in the context of its collections. After their entry at the "Raubkunst?" exhibition, the bronzes will thus be passed into the expert hands of Hamburg’s Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) that will provide the necessary framework for further research into the origin of the bronzes as well as transnational communication with Nigeria and the royal dynasty.
Silver that was formerly Jewish property
The stands containing silver that had once been the property of Jews are one of the focal points of the exhibition "Looted Art? Provenance Research on the Collections of the MK&G", which has been on show since 2014 and has attracted a great deal of interest. Since 1960 the MK&G has had in its keeping around three thousand silver objects that became part of the museum’s collection as a result of confiscations made during the Nazi period. Owing to its history, there can be no question of this silver being considered a conventional part of the museum’s holdings. However, to this day, no appropriate way of dealing with it has been found. As a cultural institution with a public service remit, the MK&G has no wish for these objects to be hidden away in storage, but neither can they be put on display as normal exhibits. So what is to become of them over the long term? How might museums work with cultural artefacts that are so intimately bound up with Jewish life and persecution and which they are also obliged to return at any such time as a valid claim to them is put forward? The MK&G has set up a symposium with scholars from museums and historical research institutions and representatives of Jewish institutions with a view to discussing these questions. Members of the public will be involved via workshops. The two-day symposium will pick up on two key aspects of this subject: it will examine the current research being done into silver that had once been the property of Jews in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Vienna, and look beyond the purely art historical or mu-seum-related dimensions of the issue. The symposium will conclude with a podium discussion, in which ideas will be developed as to how a museum piece can and should be treated if it is inextricably linked with the Holocaust in Germany.