art value - Issue 4


art value 4
3. Jahrgang 2009


Dear Readers,

Can we draw a line under the matter of restitution as Norman Rosenthal recently demanded in The Art Newspaper? It is not easy to respond to his provocation with a simple yes or no. The Washington Conference convened ten years ago and, with the principles it founded, established international guidelines for dealing with cultural assets confiscated as a result of persecution. As long ago as this may appear to be: the debate surrounding provenance and restitution has lost none of its relevance or explosiveness. Rather the opposite is true.

Opponents of restitution fear that restored paintings could be deprived of visibility and that their artistic value – reflected in their auction results worth millions – could disappear completely. Supporters of restitution see the necessity of living up to historical responsibilities and of allowing justice and fairness to prevail. Because both positions have strong arguments, one thing remains absolutely clear; the debate must continue and this as publicly as possible; it must be also based on historical findings and conducted as objectively as possible.

The contributions in this edition of art value come from credible sources: from historians in high politico-cultural positions, provenance researchers with direct experience and legal scholars with discerning detachment, as well as from art historians, authors, specialized journalists and philosophers.

The artist featured in this edition of art value is the Berlin-based artist, Kathrin Sonntag. She is presented by the curator Janneke de Vries, who was passed the »curatorial baton« by Katja Schroeder.

I wish you an informative read.

Your Tilman Welther


The conflict between the material and the artistic value of an artwork stretches through all of art history. Rare materials have always been greatly valued and attempts were made to separate material value from ideal artistic value even in antiquity. During the Renaissance artists strongly renounced the material-based valuation of art. Leon Battista Alberti was one artist in particular who attributed more value to the creation of a work as the expression of an idea than to its material worth.

Conversely, the more the creation of an artwork was historically understood as the product of a qualified manual skill, the more important the role the employed materials played. Excessively expensive materials can, on the other hand, reduce the value of an artwork and are therefore sometimes avoided because of this. Overcoming materiality is apparently more difficult to achieve with precious materials than with those of less value.

Monika Wagner outlines this conflict in its various forms from antiquity to the present.