• gerard van weyenbergh

An artwork without pedigree has no future

Between forgery and spoliation, what to do with undocumented works of art?

A colloquium organized on February 4 and 5 by the University of Geneva and the Gandur Foundation for Art brings together thirty experts online on the issue of orphan works. It could lead to international guidelines.

Undocumented works of art are plentiful in museums and private collections.

Thousands of them haunt museums and private collections, undocumented works of art whose lineage is not established. How did they get there? Are there corpses in their owner's closet? What should we do with it? In law, they are called "orphan works". An international conference is devoted to them, on 4 and 5 February at the instigation of UNIDROIT and the Foundation Gandur for 'art (FGA) .

This congress, health precautions oblige, will be held online; free, open to all on registration, it brings together thirty experts: jurists, art historians, archaeologists, museum curators, collectors, gallery owners, police officers specializing in the repression of fraud and those responsible for the protection of heritage will shed light on the subject under all Angles. "There are many orphan works throughout the world, in museums and private collections, the more we dig, the more we find in,» Summarizes Marc-André Renold, professor at the University of Geneva. And everywhere we are digging, because the preservation of cultural property is today a central concern in order, in particular, to block the road to the illicit trafficking of works of art and antiques, which is used to finance terrorism.

Without a pedigree, no future

These orphan works - archaeological, ethnographic, paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects - have been housed for decades, even centuries, in institutions or private homes. You may have one on the wall in your dining room, acquired by your great-grandfather quite legally or received as a gift but without a trace. As long as it stays hanging in your home, no problem, apart from matching the wallpaper to the colors of the painting. "It is often in the second generation that problems arise," notes Marc-André Renold. A collector dies, and his heirs want to sell or give away the pieces of which they find themselves custodians. Suppose they do not have documents certifying the origin of the objects, their provenance and the date of their acquisition, in that case, they will have the greatest difficulty in having them accepted by an auction house or a gallery owner. None of them will take the risk of putting on the market an artwork with a doubtful provenance. " © La Tribune de Geneve, Zimmermann Corpataux