Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Artworks Stolen From Alfred Flechtheim at the MOMA

For those who care about artworks stolen from Alfred Flechtheim, the Weimar Republic's greatest artdealer, there is a new Wikipedia page on Flechtheim in English here.   A recent article in Speigel magazine discussed Flechtheim, unfortunately the article is not in English.  Flechtheim was a Jew and the greatest dealer of contemporary art in Berlin in 1933.  He has been written out of history by those persons and institutions, particularly the MoMA, who profited from his demise.  The greatest forgery ring in German history recently ripped off the art collecting world, including comedian/art collector Steve Martin, by faking works from Flechtheim's stolen collection. Flechtheim was selected as Jewry's poster boy by the Nazis for his receding hairline and particularly prominent nose.  Harvard's Busch-Reisinger museum's modern German sculpture collection was founded in the early 1930's with a Rudolph Belling sculpture of Flechtheim's nose.

Alfred Barr borrowed much of Flechtheim's exhibition for the MoMA's first show of German art and Flechtheim gave the MoMA one of the first works to become part of its permanent collection, a sculpture of the boxer Max Schmeling, the guy who Joe Louis beat.  No one seems to know what MoMA did with the Schmeling sculpture.  History has failed to document Alfred Barr's intellectual and other debts to Alfred Flechtheim.  Barr, of course, was gleefully grabbing up art bargains that the Nazis had stolen from Jews, including the great critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin.

Many works stolen from Flechtheim are now at New York's Museum of Modern Art.  In Grosz v. MoMA the heirs of Berlin artist George Grosz sought to reclaim artworks that Grosz had left with Flechtheim when Grosz fled Hitler in January 1933 to come to New York to teach at the Art Students League.   MoMA got the case dismissed by falsely claiming to a federal judge that MoMA had refused the Grosz heirs claims and thus succeeded in applying the statute of limitations to hold onto the stolen art.  MoMA refused to provide the research files from MoMA's Provenance Research Project to the Grosz Heir and refused to provide its documents on art dealer Curt Valentin, MoMA's conduit to the Nazis.

MoMA's trafficking in artworks looted by the Nazis was the subject of William Cohan's excellent article MoMA's Problematic Provenances.

Glen Lowry, MoMA's director under whose tenure the files from the Provenance Research Project apparently disappeared, remains at its head.  Cohan won a Silurians Award (article here) for his article exposing MoMA's crimes, but MoMA's Trustees seem to have taken little note.  Hopefully German museums will start to write and publish work about Flechtheim, his Aryanization by Nazi SS  (earlier of Der Stahlhelm) member Alexander Voemel, and this research will force U.S. museums to start doing the right thing.
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1 comment:

Tim Engelhardt said...

Thank you for this very interesting post. Meanwhile, the Spiegel article you refer to has become available in English: