A New Lichtenberg Professorship dedicated to Provenance Studies

2020-01-06 Prof. Dr. Lynn Rother has been appointed Lichtenberg-Professor for Provenance Studies at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. Prof. Rother, until recently Senior Provenance Specialist at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, took up her new position at Leuphana. Funded and awarded by the Volkswagen Foundation, Lichtenberg Professorships are aimed at outstanding researchers wishing to embark on independent research in innovative and interdisciplinary areas. During the initial five-year funding period, Prof. Rother will be using computational methods to study the provenance of Modern European paintings in US-American Museums and the extent to which their migration was caused by political conflicts and art market transactions across the Atlantic in the twentieth century.

“With Lynn Rother, Leuphana was able to win an internationally outstanding expert," says Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture, Björn Thümler. "The establishment of provenance research at the University of Lüneburg is of great importance for the State of Lower Saxony and far beyond. It is important that progressive methods in research and teaching in this field are established in order to further strengthen the framework conditions for the fulfilment of our cultural-political responsibility in the light of the Washington principles”.

The initial research program “Modern Migrants: European Paintings in American Museums” aims to serve as a model for a new field of expertise: Provenance Studies based on the analysis of qualitative and quantitative aspects of object-related provenance information. By considering provenance information beyond the individual biographies of objects—reading them more broadly as empirical evidence of cultural and social phenomena across time and space—the project will ask: When, why and how did European paintings end up in US-American museum collections? The project will address the extent to which the migration of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modern paintings was caused by political conflicts and transatlantic art markets in the twentieth century. Furthermore, the project will reveal the network dimensions of transatlantic art markets with special focus on US-American collecting practices of contemporary art.

“In times of rapidly changing methods in the digital humanities, I am thrilled to use data science for the politically and morally important field of provenance research,” says Prof. Rother. She adds: “US-American Museums have been at the forefront by publishing provenance information online, but no university research program is making use of the massive recent accumulation of provenance data in a specialized way that focuses on data input and analysis.”

The professorship is designed to expand in order to further fields of provenance expertise. For large-scale collections consisting of prints, drawings, antiquities, archeological or ethnological objects, the standard of documentation is generally low. This makes provenance research, both Nazi-era and colonial focused, a significantly challenging task. Prof. Rother emphasizes: “Consistent data management from the outset can help museums and researchers tremendously. This not only holds for a general understanding of a collection. It also allows for the identification of objects with parallel paths, within or across museum collections, in order to bundle questions and archival research together.”


Background Information
Universities in Hamburg, Bonn, Munich, and Berlin have established (Assistant) professorships dedicated to provenance research. The Lichtenberg-Professorship for Provenance Studies is the first tenured professorship fully dedicated to provenance methodologies. It is the first Lichtenberg-Professorship for Leuphana University. Named after the 18th-century Göttingen University scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg—the first to hold a professorship explicitly devoted to experimental physics in Germany—Lichtenberg-Professorships are awarded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The funding initiative aims at attracting outstanding researchers as well as helping to establish innovative academic teaching and new lines of research at German universities.

Leuphana University originated in 2006 from the unique opportunity to rethink a university. It is a foundation under public law and its academic mission is determined by three guiding ideas: Humanism, Sustainability and Application-Orientation. The Lichtenberg-Professorship for Provenance Studies is embedded in Leuphana’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. Cultural studies and analysis, as practiced at Leuphana, is a productive nexus between the social sciences and the humanities. This conjunction supports the proposed methodological innovation necessary for current provenance research as well as this project’s specific understanding of art history operating within the field of cultural studies and analysis. Leuphana treats cultural and artistic practices in an explicitly research-oriented manner, exemplified, for example, by the University’s research center, the “Kunstraum of Leuphana” as well as the graduate program “PriMus - PhD in Museums,” initially funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Short Bio
Lynn Rother studied art history, economics and law at University Leipzig and Technical University Dresden. She obtained her PhD in art history under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Bénédicte Savoy from the Technical University Berlin. Her academic research was supported by Fellowships from The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and from the German Historical Institute in Moscow. Her published doctoral thesis on art as collateral during the Nazi-era (Kunst durch Kredit, de Gruyter, 2017) received the prize “Geisteswissenschaften international” which supports innovative works by financing their translation into English. Prof. Rother draws on more than 10 years of experience in provenance research. Before overseeing provenance research at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, she held distinct research positions at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, working on all facets of World War II-era provenance as well as on digital initiatives co-financed by the European Commission. At Leuphana University she is member of the Institute for Philosophy and Sciences of Art as well as an associated member of the Institute of Sociology and Cultural Organization in its Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.