One of the fundamental responsibilities of a museum curator (and other museum professionals) is tracing the history of ownership—the provenance—of artworks in the museum’s collection. Knowing the geographic, personal and commercial history of artworks provides valuable insight into the history of art and art collecting. Documenting provenance can also serve as a way of authenticating an artwork as well as an important means of establishing legal ownership. Gaps in the provenance of certain artworks may require that a museum follow additional reporting guidelines required by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
If an artwork changed hands or could have changed hands in Continental Europe between 1933, the date of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, and 1945, the end of World War II, and there is a gap in provenance during this time period, museums have an ethical obligation to report these artworks, in accordance with AAM guidelines. LACMA continues to review artworks in its collection as well as new acquisitions that have these gaps.
Beginning in 2008, the date of the relevant AAMD guidelines, if an artwork is an antiquity or otherwise possible archaeological material without documented provenance prior to 1970, as set forth in the AAMD guidelines, museums must justify the acquisition of the artwork as one of the exceptions to the 1970 provenance rule set forth by AAMD. This justification, including an image of the artwork, will also be reported on AAMD’s object registry. LACMA continues to review artworks in its collection acquired after 2008, together with new acquisitions, that are exceptions to the 1970 rule.