Perspectives Notes from Museum Leadership

How We Collect: Research, Transparency, and Collaboration

Learn about The Met's collecting practices and provenance research.

Mar 13, 2023

Photo of the American Wing gallery at The Metropolitan museum of art: an indoor courtyard with sky lights with the facade of a bank vault on one wall with people roaming around the courtyard.

The Met’s website is a critical tool that allows us to expand access to information about the Museum, our collection and related scholarship, and our policies and practices. I’m pleased to write to you today about the launch of a new section on where you can now find a rich array of information and resources on The Met’s collecting practices and provenance research.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a vast and ever-evolving collection of more than 1.5 million objects that we have acquired throughout our 153-year history. The collection spans more than 5,000 years of art history from around the globe—from ancient to contemporary times—making The Met a universal museum of the world, in the world, and for the world.

Part of what makes The Met among the world’s greatest museums is that we continue to add works across our many collecting areas, which enables us to continually expand and diversify the stories we tell in the galleries and what we preserve for everyone. Accordingly, we take great care in how we acquire art and how we study and preserve works that have long been in the collection. The topics of provenance and repatriation or restitution, which have been in the news a lot lately, have been a particular focus among museum leaders, scholars, and audiences for some time. The issue is an important, complex, and multifaceted one, and one that we consider across all our relevant collection areas, as it is core to our mission to act responsibly and to seek greater understanding of our shared cultural heritage as well as the origins and evolution of institutions like ours. 
The Met is responsible for how we build and steward our collection, and our actions—over decades and recently—must reflect this responsibility. The Met strongly supports the 1970 UNESCO convention that formalized policies that protect cultural property around the world; we helped develop and enthusiastically follow the ethical guidelines set forth by the Association of Art Museum Directors; we are a leader in researching and restituting objects that were looted during the Nazi era; and we have recently made voluntary returns of objects (including to India, Nepal, and Nigeria) based on research by our curatorial team. Additionally, we work closely with law enforcement—a critical partner and one that often receives new research before The Met and other museums. 

The Museum’s approach follows three guiding principles: research, transparency, and collaboration. Key to our progress in each of those areas is the pioneering work we’ve done to make The Met collection—and known ownership history for our works of art—readily available on the Museum’s website. We’ve also created opportunities for audiences to engage in dialogue and share information about objects by including email addresses on every object page on

Importantly, this section introduces a list of objects that were returned in recent years, and we will soon be publishing related images and ownership histories for these objects as well. Making this information readily available online is in keeping with both our commitment to transparency and to advancing discussions around this critical topic. 

As the section’s content shows, provenance research and questions of restitution often require a case-by-case approach for each time and circumstance. The Met is committed to returning an object if newly discovered facts demonstrate that we do not have valid title. The digital era has provided new sources of research. In many areas, new information has become available from the archives of art dealers and collectors, which has prompted The Met and other museums to reexamine the provenance of works. This is a positive development for the field.

We serve as the custodian of objects from many different cultures around the world. This service is an honor and demands that we think creatively and with great sensitivity to the often complicated contexts that surround works of art—their place of origin, their original function, their trajectory, their provenance, and how each piece ended up in our care. Every object has a history that deserves to be told, and The Met is dedicated to finding, sharing, and acting on these stories.

We welcome you to explore this new section here.

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