Provenance research in the 21st century: object history at the Menil Collection



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In museum collections across the United States, antiquities collections often lack documented ownership histories. This paper explores the context of that problem in relation to a particular museum, The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Specific examples of artworks are presented to illustrate how a lack of provenance can be problematic. During the course of the de Menils' decades of collecting, laws, international agreements and attitudes changed and evolved. Objects purchased during that time period therefore do not necessarily conform to today's standards in terms of provenance records. This paper also explores motivations for collecting, looking at Dominique and John De Menil and their relationship with various dealers. Finally, this paper proposes ways forward, looking to museum studies and digital humanities as areas we can find solutions for research and display of current museum collections.