The History of Art is Linked but the Data Is Not: Georgia O’Keeffe, Provenance and Scholarship

Activity: Talk or presentationConference PresentationsResearch

Lynn Rother - Speaker

The history of artworks is linked. They were produced by the same artists, traded by the same dealers, collected by the same people, transferred, looted or confiscated by the same entities while eventually finding their permanent home in the same museums—or not. To date, these links across museum collections are only visible to the few experts studying the artworks’ history of ownership. But the field of provenance research has matured enough to enable structuring and aggregating provenance records as Linked Data. Though shaped by complex and diverse contexts, an artwork’s provenance record can be broken down into empirical data consisting of objects, protagonists, dates, locations and types of transactions. To this day, however, the majority of museums record the valuable information harvested through time-consuming and resource-intensive provenance research within their collection management systems without machine-readable structure, hindering the analysis and linking of the data across institutions. New tools offer the potential to standardize, aggregate, and consider the museum accumulated provenance data broadly to reveal new stories about the global circulation and displacement of artworks and nuance the existing histories of collecting and art market practices. As museum objects and their movements through time and space tell stories beyond object-based art historical research and collection cataloguing, this paper will elaborate on the potential of Linked Art for provenance research and for scholarship in related fields. MoMA’s acquisition and deaccession of O’Keeffe’s Kachinas—representations of Pueblo and Hopi spirits used in ceremonies and rituals and therefore considered culturally sensitive objects in museum collections—will show how structured provenance data of museums using Linked Art can benefit related research fields such as the histories of collecting and art market practices but also museum, Native American, and Indigenous studies.


Digital Humanities 2020: Carrefours/Intersections


Ottawa, Canada

Event: Conference