Do You Have What It Takes to Be the Met Museum’s Head of Provenance?

At long last, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has posted a job listing for its new Head of Provenance Research position. The museum announced the role in May in the wake of increased scrutiny — and law enforcement seizures — of works in its 1.5 million-object collection.

A few weeks before The Met’s announcement this spring, a ProPublica report alleged incomplete provenance histories for 85% of the 139 objects in the museum’s prized Charles and Valerie Diker collection of Native American art. A month before that, an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) story found that more than 1,000 objects in The Met’s collection were connected to accused or convicted antiquities smugglers. The new staff member will be joined by three additional provenance researchers, although the museum has yet to post those listings.

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Delving into the complicated histories of The Met’s vast holdings will undoubtedly prove a tall order. According to the job posting, applicants should have 10 years of experience in provenance research and a Master’s degree or a PhD in an art historical field “relevant to this work” or a “related field,” such as law. Additional prerequisites are broad: The new hire should understand how the art market influences the field, be familiar with resources such as archives, and have an established network of contacts. The candidate should also have “significant experience” with collection practices, whether from work at a museum or another type of organization. The new staff member will earn between $140,00o and $160,000.

The Met has not disclosed an intended start date, but once hired, the Head of Provenance Research will coordinate all inquiries into objects that might have Nazi-era provenance or constitute cultural property. They will start their work with the Ancient Americas department; The Met is currently renovating that section of the museum as part of a larger initiative to create new galleries for the African Art, Ancient American Art, and Oceanic Art departments.

The new hire, who will report directly to Met Director Max Hollein, will also serve as somewhat of a figurehead, attending conferences and seminars, “driving communication” of provenance information on the museum’s website, and influencing The Met’s “outward-looking provenance efforts,” such as lectures. The staff member will also be involved in training curators and collection managers in the “care and evaluation” of cultural property.

While this year’s reports from ProPublica and ICIJ drew additional attention to the murky histories of some of the artworks at The Met, repatriations and seizures of objects at the museum have been going on for years. In 2022, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized five Ancient Egyptian objects, a 6th-century Hindu statue, and 21 Ancient Greek and Roman artifacts. This spring, The Met announced it would repatriate 15 objects to India: Those works were linked to notorious smuggler Subhash Kapoor, who trafficked more than $143 million worth of art before he was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year.

“The Head of Provenance Research will lead efforts across The Met’s collection areas, building on decades of research and the ongoing work of The Met’s curators, scholars, and provenance researchers,” Hollien told Hyperallergic in a statement. “Art museums such as The Met steward important resources of world heritage, and we are committed to undertaking this work so that The Met can continue to be a leader in the field for both our current generation and many more to come.”


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