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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Ellingen Stash Native American bowl

Center for Art Collection Ethics


Welcome to the Center for Art Collection Ethics

April 3, 2018 | Elizabeth Campbell, Director

Welcome! You've landed on the news blog of the newly established Center for Art Collection Ethics (ACE) within the Divisions of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Denver.

Our mission is to promote ethical art collection stewardship through information and training.


This blog will serve as a clearinghouse with breaking news and original posts on stewardship issues, such as provenance (ownership) research, acquisitions, donations, and cultural property disputes. 

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You can also follow us on Twitter @UofDenver_ACE.


We aim to provide provenance (ownership) research training to graduate students, art professionals and collectors, in short-term, non-credit certificate programs. The program will be held on the University of Denver campus during the summer term. Stay tuned for more information on our inaugural training program.

Why are we providing this training? Since the 1990s, there has been widely accepted recognition among museum professionals that ethical stewardship includes provenance research on objects in institutions' permanent collections and when acquiring pieces through purchases or donations. Codes of ethics and standards for "best practices" have been created by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG). Yet there is a persistent lack of provenance research training and many museums lack staff members dedicated to this task.

ACE aims to bridge the gap between accepted standards and common practice.

Just as the art market is global, the need for provenance research is global. The Louvre museum in Paris has been in the news recently, as two rooms are now dedicated to Nazi-era art that has been held by the French state since end of the Second World War. The Monuments Men and Women—cultural officers in the western Allied armies—recovered plundered objects from German repositories and repatriated them to their countries of origin. The works currently on display at the Louvre were never successfully claimed by the rightful owners, and are among 2,000 pieces appropriated after the war by the French government.

While the display of these objects is a sign of French transparency, the true key to finding rightful owners is provenance research. A team of experts is carrying out this research in France, a project launched only in 2014.

Museums in the U.S. also have work to do in this area, as many pieces plundered during the Nazi era, mostly from Jewish collectors, were resold multiple times and reached American museums through purchases or donations. ACE aims to help museums carry out their due diligence in provenance research and achieve standards of transparency.

Join us as we study and debate these issues, and promote high standards of excellence in U.S. art collection stewardship.

About the Center for Art Collection Ethics

Elizabeth Campbell is Director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics and Associate Professor of History at the University of Denver. She is the author of Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy (Stanford University Press, 2011). Her current book project, supported by the United States National Endowment for the Humanities, examines the restitution of Nazi-looted art in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In all three cases, the postwar governments held unclaimed works for display in state-run museums, setting the stage for controversy and litigation since the 1990s and ongoing cultural property disputes.