Can there be a biography to a work of art? Who were its owners? What were the circumstances of its changing of ownership?
Based on select topics, the exhibition highlights the diverse history and provenance of the works held by the Berggruen museum.
The scholarly work of the provenance researchers is illustrated under the question, What is provenance research? by displaying the backs of paintings and other sources. All of the studied works are accompanied by exhibition labels with provenance chains.
La loi normale des erreurs/Projet Picasso – an installation by Raphaël Denis In addition, the contemporary installation La loi normale des erreurs – Projet Picasso, version Berggruen created by French artist Raphaël Denis deals with the expropriation of artworks by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, main protagonist in the Nazi plunder throughout occupied France. The artistic discourse also accounted for works held by the Berggruen museum that were subject to confiscation by the ERR and restituted in the post-war period.
With the Washington Principles of 1998 at the latest, public museums are under the obligation to investigate the provenance of their art objects and identify any Nazi-confiscated art. The exhibition constitutes the finale to a three-year research project into the provenance of the 135 pre-1945 art objects from the collection of the Museum Berggruen which are under the ownership of the Nationalgalerie,Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Sponsorship of the research project was taken over by Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (German Lost Art Foundation). On top of the research project, inquiries were carried out surrounding the five African works of art on display. The findings of a preliminary investigation concerning their presentation and origin are based on a joint project of the Nationalgalerie and the Freie Universität Berlin.
The exhibition is a cooperation of the Nationalgalerie and the Zentralarchiv of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication providing details about former owners and a timeline of possession for objects in the Museum Berggruen holdings catalogue. Biographies of selected works as well as essays illustrate the history of the private collection of Heinz Berggruen, make former owners known, and provide an introduction to the complexities of provenance and the research into it. Reproductions, photos of reverse sides, historical records, portraits of collectors and dealers, an index of investigated works with extensive provenance details and a glossary of people referred to complete the volume. The publication "Biografien der Bilder. Provenienzen im Museum Berggruen" is available in the Bookshop Walther König or online (in german only).