Conducting research into the history of works of modern and contemporary art in the Guggenheim collection is an integral part of the work of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Since at least the 1970s, Guggenheim Museum collection catalogues have included detailed information on provenance—i.e. the source of an object, or the history of subsequent owners.
In 1998, the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the American Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued updated guidelines concerning the unlawful appropriation of objects during the Nazi era. The AAM and AAMD have urged that museums strive to identify all objects in their collections created before 1946 that underwent a change of ownership between 1933 and 1945 and that may have been in continental Europe between those dates. They have also recommended that museums make accessible any currently available object and provenance information on those objects.
The Guggenheim Foundation has focused on researching and documenting provenance for the period between 1933–45 for paintings, sculpture, and works on paper in the permanent collection. To date, four phases of the Guggenheim Foundation’s provenance research project have been completed:
- An initial review of the collection to identify objects with uncertain Nazi-era provenance and to determine whether further research is needed to discover if such objects were unlawfully appropriated.
- The assessment of individual collections, including but not limited to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, the bequests of Justin K. Thannhauser, Peggy Guggenheim and Hilla Rebay, the Karl Nierendorf Estate purchase, and other acquisitions of so-called "covered objects."
- The recording and dating of all prior owners for each individual object that is known to have changed hands in continental Europe during the Nazi era.
- The registering of "covered objects" on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal.
The collection of the Guggenheim Foundation was formed with objects gifted by Solomon R. Guggenheim, or purchased by the Foundation before his death, between 1937 and 1949. In his efforts to support contemporary artists and the avant-garde, much of the art Mr. Guggenheim collected in the late 1920s through the 1940s was purchased directly from artists through the aid of his art advisor, Hilla Rebay. However, Mr. Guggenheim also acquired various objects from art dealers operating in England, Germany, France, and New York. Mr. Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy Guggenheim, assembled her collection of abstract and surrealist art in London and Paris between 1939 and 1942, often buying directly from artists or established galleries. The Foundation also received significant holdings of prewar art from the German émigré dealers Karl Nierendorf and Justin K. Thannhauser in 1948 and 1978, respectively. Both gallerists were active in Europe in the 1910s–30s.
Of approximately 1,025 prewar European works in the Guggenheim Collection, the museum’s research staff initially identified approximately 275 works that are known to have, or might reasonably be thought to have, changed hands in continental Europe between 1932 and 1946. The Foundation registered each of these "covered objects" on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, which launched in 2003, in addition to linking detailed object reports wherever possible. The Foundation is committed to ongoing collections research and will continue to add "covered objects" to the portal as they become known, as well as to upload reports for Guggenheim objects already posted on the portal.
As more collector and dealer archives, and other critical resources for provenance research, become available, the museum will continue to work toward resolving any issues of undocumented origins pertaining to works in the permanent collection. Any person with information on Guggenheim objects listed on the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, or with general provenance inquiries regarding objects in the Guggenheim Collection, may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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New York, NY 10128-0173
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