Professor Antoinette Maget Dominicé of the Faculty of Art History recently teamed up with her research associate Elisa Ludwig to organize an excursion for students from Lille and Munich. The topic? "Collecting and collections".
Cold and grey as it was, the little group of students and lecturers huddled together outside the Alte Pinakothek were not going to be put off by a typically bleak November day in Munich. They had waited long enough, nervously hoping that the ‘Collecting and Collections’ project would take place at all in a fall season buffeted by the coronavirus. The students from Lille were now there, however, having arrived in traditional analogue manner and, the previous evening, enjoyed a rainy stroll across the Königsplatz, looking from the outside in at the Glyptothek (the only museum in the world dedicated solely to ancient sculptures), the State Collection of Antiquities, the Lenbachhaus gallery and the NS Documentation Center covering the history of National Socialism. Moreover, art historian Neven Denhauser had just given a few of the students a guided tour of the Munich Residence. One of them was Pauline, who is studying art history in Lille: “I discovered so many things,” she enthuses. “I’ve never been in a museum like this one before!” Julia, a native of Paris who is doing her master’s degree as a distance learning course at the University of Lille, is wrapped up warm in hat and coat, waiting for the next item on the agenda – and equally euphoric: “It was wonderful!” she says. She was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Residence and excited to see works of art from so many different epochs. For the budding art historian, it was equally fascinating to see the many and varied ways in which objects in the collection are restored.
Next stop: a paper chase through the Alte Pinakothek. Sarah and Melinda, the two interpreters from the Fremdspracheninstititut München, FIM (Munich’s municipal foreign languages institute), had to look that one up: “jeu de piste”. The two were recruited specially to help the students bridge any language barriers – a task involving a fair amount of preparation. Visits to museums are not touristic highlights but scientific excursions that address some of the great art history questions of our day.
Practical, interdisciplinary, transnational
Where cultural assets come from and how they are stored is an issue that rose to prominence above all with the 1998 Washington Principles. The 44 signatory states committed to recovering works of art confiscated during the Nazi era. Questions surrounding cultural assets from colonial contexts have likewise come to the fore in recent years. Either way, conducting research into collections and their provenance is quite simply a fascinating area of interdisciplinary science – one to which Geneva-born Professor Antoinette Maget Dominicé readily devotes herself at LMU. She it was who launched this project, in which twelve students from Lille, twelve from Munich and ten lecturers from either faculty of art history are participating. Supported by the Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO), the event enables the students to work in a hands-on, interdisciplinary way that also transcends national boundaries. That also naturally deepens the bonds between the two faculties.
Neven Denhauser, part of the Munich group, relishes the fact that the students come from a broad spectrum of contexts, that the project gets them out of their “bubble”. “People in France are amazed that even small towns in Germany are bursting with culture, whereas everything over there is focused on Paris,” he says. He also feels it is important that provenance research opens up new vistas and perspectives. “It makes art more accessible. Art becomes a tangible object.”
The students from Munich and Lille gathered in front of the Alte Pinakothek
On the afternoon in question, the students spent two and a half hours clustered into small groups in front of selected paintings at the Alte Pinakothek, using little cards to discuss concepts such as ‘power structures’, ‘identity’, ‘nationality’, ‘globalization’, ‘education’ and ‘conflicts’.
While the students from Lille had the chance to see at first hand masterpieces they only knew from books and digital presentations, the Munich contingent seized the opportunity to see ‘their’ art inventory through new eyes, as Professor Maget Dominicé put it. At the end of the three-day event, she could not contain her excitement about the high-quality talks with which a number of experts had accompanied the excursion: “We, the lecturers, were deeply impressed by the students’ openness and engagement.”
For Eva, currently in the fifth semester of her art history studies, a tour of the university’s archive on the third day was the most interesting aspect. “I learned a great deal about different collections, especially in the archive and library context. I found that really fascinating.”
One other completely different consideration naturally added an extra special flair to the occasion: “After studying online for so many semesters, it was nice to be able to talk and discuss things face to face again.”
For the Munich students, the icing on the cake would obviously be the return visit to Lille that is scheduled for mid-December. Whether or not the pandemic will let that happen nevertheless remains unclear. “We’re all hoping we will be able to say ‘hi’ and ‘bonjour’ again very soon,” the professor says. “One thing is for sure: If we are allowed to travel, we’re really looking forward to the trip to Lille.”