Hidden History

The Provenance of Confiscated Art during the Third Reich. Using visual design to make historical data more accessible.

During the Nazi era, about 200.000 items (mainly Modern art pieces) were confiscated from German museums by the Nazi’s in an effort to control the cultural zeitgeist. Many were never seen again. The Research Center on Confiscated Art seeks to track down those works and uncover their provenance.
I took the Research Center’s data on Confiscated Art and used it to visualise the provenance of the pieces mentioned above. Given the sheer number of confiscated items I decided to focus on a subset, namely, a collection of paintings stolen from the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne (my hometown). This led to 47 unique ‘provenance forms’.
By visualizing the various provenances of these pieces, and refusing to concentrate merely on ‘destroyed’ art, I sought to paint a more nuanced picture of the unique journeys these works have undergone. My goal is to grab the public’s attention, help promote interest and a better understanding of what history has hidden or made invisible, and what the Research Center is now rediscovering, piece   by piece.
I created a graph with one vertical axis representing the timeline of events. the other (horizontal axis) depicts the specific events that characterise the life of each painting. Each dot on the timeline can be traced to an event on the timeline, thereby creating its unique form. The colours of the provenance shapes refer back to the painting title, since the motifs they actually depicted were not aggressive.

The project resulted in an animation film that explains how these provenance forms are created and how they can be read on the graph.

Out of the provenance forms, new visual compositions were created that were then printed onto 23 x 35 mm foils and made into analogue Dias frames.

Dia Projections



For the exposition the Hidden History project became an immersive experience where the visitor could explore several layers of the data. Three diaprojectors were installed, showing off the dias, with one concentrating on the original, historical photos from the Degenerate Art Exhibiton 1937.
In addition, theanimation and take-away booklets provided additional information about the project and research.