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In Search of Matisse, Exhibition, Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway, 10 September-13 December 2015

Looting of cultural heritage and artworks is addressed in exhibition

Museum's text:

Famous artworks by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse are juxtaposed with new work from such contemporary artists as Michael Rakowitz, Céline Condorelli, Dag Erik Elgin, Marianne Heier, and Matts Leiderstam when Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (HOK) launches its fall exhibition season with In Search of Matisse on September 10th.

The subject of this exhibition is how cultural objects change hands, circulation and movement in time and space, and it brings together entirely new works and works from the art center’s abundant permanent collection,” says director Tone Hansen. This exhibition attempts, among other things, to expound the consequences both historic and contemporary looting of artworks and cultural heritage have on the obliteration of cultural existence.

In Search of Matisse also explores of the relationship between acts of aggression and identity, art history, and the power and politics associated with the ownership of things”, says HOK’s director Tone Hansen.

The idea for the exhibition evolved from and is a result of a letter and a telephone call HOK received in June 2012. The letter and telephone conversation were the impetus for a research project investigating the ownership history of artworks and cultural objects at the art center, a research project that extended over more than three years and now culminates with In Search of Matisse.

“The exhibition has obvious historical references to the looting and confiscation perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, but shows that similar acts are still occurring today as well, for example the looting and destruction of Palmyra in Syria. With this exhibition, we want to put the focus on the history of objects at a time when we are facing the greatest refugee catastrophe since World War II—and likewise have not seen such destruction of cultural monuments since that time”, Tone Hansen explains.

The Matisse case

The letter and phone conversation that started it all at HOK came from the heirs of the Jewish art collector, Paul Rosenberg, via the organization Art Loss Register (ALR) and stated that the painting, “Profil bleu devant la cheminée” (the Norwegian title is “Blå kjole i okergul lenestol”, and in English, “Blue Dress in a Yellow Armchair”) from 1937 by the French painter Henri Matisse, had been confiscated by the Nazis from Rosenberg’s storage vault when France was invaded during World War II, and that the painting had been missing ever since.

“Working together with the claimants, HOK spent two years scouring public and private archives in the US and France, piecing together the painting’s movements over time. HOK returned the painting to the Rosenberg family in 2014, roughly two years after the initial enquiry. Nearly 60 years after the work first became a part of Henie Onstad’s collection, it was once again put back into circulation”, relates Tone Hansen.

Pioneering work

“The Matisse matter led to a nearly three-year-long research project where we have examined the provenance of all 19 works in the art center’s collection that were created prior to 1945. The meticulous detective work has been done to insure that these artworks have changed hands in lawful and honest ways”, says curator Ana María Bresciani, who along with Tone Hansen is responsible for the exhibition.

In Search of Matisse is the first research project in Norway that takes a look at the relationship between looting and the way the art market has functioned both during and after the World War II.

Masterworks paired with new works

“This exhibition gives the audience a unique opportunity to see a golden line-up, the 19 works whose provenance has been investigated, together with the results of our research. The exhibition thematizes these important and popular works in a new way, focusing on their historical migration from hand to hand”, says Tone Hansen.

– “Artworks are circulated all the time, and World War II is unfortunately not an isolated occurrence when it comes to the looting of cultural objects and destruction of cultural heritage, and artworks circulate through the market via donations and gifts. Therefore HOK has also invited contemporary artists to develop new work for the exhibition”, Hansen elaborates.

Céline Condorelli, Dag Erik Elgin, Marianne Heier, Matts Leiderstam, and Michael Rakowitz have all been invited to create new works to be shown in this exhibition. In addition, historic works by the contemporary artists Hans Haacke, Hito Steyerl, Mounira Al Solh, and Ulay will be on display as well.

The exhibition also features works from Henie Onstad’s collection by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Estève, Juan Gris, Paul Klee, Charles Lapicque, Fernand Lèger, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Jacques Villon. Every one of the 19 works that were the subject of HOK’s provenance research in the three-year project will be presented along with the information uncovered about the works.

New insight and a broader perspective

“The show In Search of Matisse widens the conventional view of provenance research to include consideration of an artwork’s social context—that is to say, a broader analysis of the social and societal frameworks the art has moved through, and what consequences today’s looting has for the obliteration of cultural existence. The investigation and the knowledge gained through the work with this case has also inspired a discussion of the role of the museum in contemporary society, and our hope is that the exhibition will also generate new insight into the challenges faced by museums today, both in relation to our era’s major refugee crises and wars, and in relation to history”, Tone Hansen concludes.

What is provenance?

The literal meaning of the word provenance is origin—from the French provenir, meaning to come or originate from. With respect to art, provenance means the history of a work’s ownership, and its record serves to confirm the work’s authenticity. When one traces the ownership of a work, one identifies the various ways transactions and transfers have occurred, either by sale, gift, trade, inheritance, or other means.

Curators of the exhibition are Tone Hansen and Ana María Bresciani.

In conjunction with the exhibition In Search of Matisse, HOK will hold a seminar in English on October 29 and 30, 2015. The subject is provenance research and its relation to the market, the circulation of objects, and its meaning in times of conflict.On Day 2 of the seminar, which takes place at Fritt Ord in Uranienborgveien 2, Michael Rackowitz will present and serve his performance dinner Enemy Kitchen. More information on the seminar and how to register for the seminar will come soon.


Henie Onstad Kunstsenter | Sonja Henies vei 31 | N-1311 Høvikodden, Norway
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Source: accessed 25 November 2015