Thursday, May 26, 2011

Massive German Art Forgery Scandal - The Alfred Flechtheim Collection

Among those in the know, Alfred Flechtheim is considered perhaps the greatest contemporary art dealer in Germany's Weimar Republic.   He was Jewish, chased by the Nazis from his galleries in Berlin and Dusseldorf.   A Nazi named Alexander Voemel took over his galleries in 1933.  His gallery is still operating today.   An ad for Galerie Voemel brags of its legacy:

Die Galerie Vömel, mehr als ein halbes Jahrhundert in Düsseldorf ansässig, wurde von Alex Vömel - Geschäftsführer der legendären Galerie Flechtheim - gegründet und wird heute von seinem Sohn Edwin Vömel weiter geführt.

Vor einigen Jahren ist die Galerie in das alte Stadtpalais gegenüber vom Stadtmuseum in die Karlstadt umgesiedelt.
Die Galerie Vömel führt Arbeiten der klassischen Moderne, weiterhin ist sie spezialisiert auf Skulpturen und Arbeiten auf Papier des 20. Jahrhunderts.
Gezeigt werden regelmäßig Ausstellungen, welche mit Katalogen dokumentiert werden.

Shunned by his former friends, those who stole his art conveniently wrote him out of art history.   In a book called Boston Modern, art historian Judith Bookbinder credits Alfred Flechtheim with donating a Rudolph Belling sculpture of himself as being the foundation of Harvard's collection of modern German sculpture that turned into the Busch-Reisinger collection.

Flechtheim represented artists such as Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Andre Derain,  Paul Klee, George Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke and many others.

Flechtheim was featured on Nazi anti-semitic posters as the symbol of International Bolshevist Jewry - More on Flechtheim's nose here.

When in 1933 Nazis started attacking modern art in anti-Semitic museum exhibitions, Flechtheim and his sales to German museums were attacked.  When the 1937 Entartete Kunst exhibition took place, the Nazis had a life-sized portrait of Flechtheim.

New York's Museum of Modern Art has many works from Alfred Flechtheim's 1933 inventory, but refuses to share the provenance documentation of these artworks with researchers.

A Swiss government report on MoMA's role in the Nazi looted art trade here.

Shockingly, MoMA's current exhibition catalog German Expressionism:  The Graphic Impulse, writtten by Starr Figura and Peter Jelavich, completely omits any mention of Flechtheim.

In a bitter irony, German prosecutors just arrested a group of forgers that created fake works that they claimed were from Flechtheim's inventory.  Article from German newspaper at the link below:

Alfred Flechtheim's German-language Wikipedia page is here.  

Whether from ignorance, stupidity or venality, American museums and art historians seem to be determined to write Alfred Flechtheim out of art history.   It may be that the arrest and trial of this forgery ring in Germany will succeed in uncovering that which those Americans trafficking in and concealing Nazi-looted art would like to bury.

Not even one English-speaking Wikipedian will memorialize poor Flechtheim.

Browse my earlier posts on Alfred Flechtheim here.

A quote from Steven Litt's article  from Cleveland's Plain Dealer in 2003 below, full article here:

"Flechtheim was for the Nazi government, you can say, in art, public enemy No. 1," said Ottfried Dascher of Dortmund, a retired professor of history from the University of Bochum.

Today, Flechtheim is a hot topic in Germany, a nation trying to come to terms with its past. The art museum in Dusseldorf celebrated his life in an exhibition in 1987. His hometown of Munster renamed a street for him. And just last month, art dealers and historians, including Dascher, dedicated a plaque on the Berlin building where Flechtheim once lived.
"There is no week in which I don't get letters and e-mails from all over the world on this subject," Dascher said in a telephone interview.
One reason for the interest is that Flechtheim was part of a group of pioneering art dealers of German-Jewish heritage who were the first to champion the work of Picasso and other modern artists. Flechtheim was also part of the cultural renaissance of Weimar Germany, which brought forth the films of Fritz Lang, the music of Kurt Weill and the drama of Bertolt Brecht.
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