11 June 2015

My Favorite Rant: on Education, Restitution and the Culture of Museums

by Ori Z Soltes

One of the questions that, as a former Museum Director and Curator I remember having frequently asked my staff, my advisory board and myself is: what is the purpose of our museum? Clearly the raison d’être that every visitor observes in visiting a museum is the ingathering and display of objects. But why collect objects, besides, in the case of many of them, particularly in art and ethnographic museums, the fact that they are simply beautiful? There is no question but that most viewers’ eyes will be challenged in the most positive of ways and even, perhaps, their souls softened, by standing before Michelangelo’s David or before a handful of Monet’s explorations of the Rouen Cathedral in different kinds of light. One of the fascinating things about us as a species is that we respond differently to the same work of art and are moved by some works and not by others—one individual’s hour-long meditation before a Rothko painting is another individual’s swift passage by that painting in search of the Bernini sculptures on exhibition three galleries away.

Art museums presumably need and want to take cognizance of these differences and, as far as possible, provide an enjoyable viewing experience to as wide an audience as possible. More than that, though, they should want to help the viewer understand how Michelangelo’s statuary derived from and differed from the sculpture that preceded it and how it led to and yet not necessarily to Bernini’s different sort of visual vocabulary; why and how Monet’s vision offered such a revolutionary departure from the vision of Leonardo and in turn how Rothko, differently, continued that revolution—and how others since Rothko have further shaped the history of how art is made and seen. We want, that is, to educate our audiences—for a better-educated audience is likely to be both a more appreciative audience and one more capable, on occasion, of responding to exhibitions in ways that may lead the Museum itself to think differently and more deeply about the cultural world it engages.

So we don’t collect just to hoard and we don’t collect just to beautify the spaces devoted to what we collect. Museums are an essential part of the ongoing mechanism of not only preserving human culture and its concomitants but of exploring and explaining how civilization has evolved—what human culture is. Our raison d’être is to teach how the paths of art have diverged and converged, again and again across human history and geography; how our vocabularies of style and symbol have interwoven our aesthetic impulses and have articulated our need to access feelings and thoughts beyond the verbally expressible.

With the history of human culture—twisted in a particularly painful direction during the middle of the last century—as a focus, my HARP colleagues and I have been beating on the doors of our museums for nearly twenty years to be educated and to educate their audiences from a particular angle. We have pushed them to be conscious of provenance possibilities for works of art that have made their way into museum collections with certain holes in the accounts of their ownership histories. The results, as readers of the plundered art blog are aware, have been mixed at best. Most recently, of course, the case of Leone Meyer’s claim against the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma for her father’s Nazi-stolen Pissarro has revealed that the museum has never done provenance research on its collections, within which a goodly number of works may well have experienced the same sort of depredational fate that La Bergère experienced at the hands of Alfred Rosenberg’s ERR. They failed to research La Bergère’s ownership history even when specifically warned by a colleague from another museum that it might have been stolen by the Nazis from its pre-war owners.

The point here is not to focus on whether or not La Bergère will end up restituted to the family from which it was taken. That outcome, morally unquestionable (that it be returned to Leone Meyer) remains invisible (due to the vagaries of our law courts), unless one is a prophet, and I am not one. The point, however, is to focus on what lies behind the museum’s failure to inquire into the painting’s ownership past. Appropriately enough, this focus is tangent to the comment made by Eric Sundby, President of the student-run Holocaust Restitution and Remembrance Society at the University of Oklahoma, toward the end of his speech supporting the Oklahoma legislature’s proposal of a bill, HR 1026, that would compel the university’s Fred Jones, Jr. museum to fulfill the provenance research obligation that it has steadfastly ignored. Sundby commented that, as students, he and his organization want their tuition dollars to go not to high-paid lawyers who will defend the museum and university from those demanding restitution of Nazi-plundered paintings, but to education. The point that runs tangent to Sundby’s comment is that every museum, and not only those located on college or university campuses, should be committed to education—that this should be a raison d’être, a priority of museums.

One of the obvious contexts for this priority is, to repeat, the explanation and exploration of the aesthetic developments that connect and disconnect Leonardo and Rothko or Michelangelo and Bernini. Important in quite another way is the information—the explanation and exploration—provided by provenance research, whether in the Holocaust or other contexts. Art has never existed in a vacuum; it has always intersected religion (depicting or exploring or addressing divinity, from Egyptian statuary to Leonardo’s Last Supper) and politics (from the depiction of the pharaoh, Khafra, as god-like, to Jacque-Louis David’s painting of the coronation of Napoleon’s wife by the hand of the self-proclaimed Emperor himself)—and economics (without the financial resources, neither Khafra nor Napoleon could have commissioned the works that immortalize them). Without patronage, artists starve (and many have starved precisely for that lack).

Knowing who has owned a work throughout its history is not a footnote to history but essential to understand the work’s place in history: when all those crowds flock to the Louvre to stare at Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, if it does not occur to them to wonder how that Italian girl painted by that Italian man ended up in Paris, the museum is failing its role as an educational institution if it does not provide that information—clearly, simply, right there, for all who choose to do so to be able to read it, and with that reading, to be able to gain some insights into the history of that era and the art that reflects the era.
La Bergère, by Camille Pissarro
ERR card for La Bergere

The essence of history, well-explained, is, like the root of the word itself, story. This is what humans are all about. This is what works of art so often can be, aside from and in addition to their role as sources of visual pleasure. The story of Leonardo’s dying in the arms of his last patron, the French King, Francis I, to whose court he had come with, among other things, his Mona Lisa as a prized possession, is an important part of understanding who Leonardo was, who Francis was, what Italy and France were and are; it fills in an important as well as compelling part of the picture (pun intended) of the human experience. The story of Leone Meyer’s father’s Pissarro and that of others whose art was plundered, whether by the Nazis or by Soviet trophy squads as the war wound down; the story of what American galleries were doing with regard to plundered art during and after the war—like the story of what and how Napoleon dragged back that obelisk from Egypt that graces the Place de la Concord not far from the Louvre, or how the Romans eighteen centuries earlier dragged obelisks back to Rome—matters, if we wish to have a deeper and broader understanding of what we are as a species.

Leone Meyer
It should matter to museums above all. If our collections are not mere eye candy or mere symptoms of an obsession with hoarding or mere bait for tourists willing to pay money to see what we have gathered within our walls—if we are to be what we claim to be, protectors and preservers of culture (which is why some museums argue that Egyptian or Greek or Turkish antiquities are better off, because they are better protected and preserved, within French or English or German or American museums than in their own original countries; and also why, at the outset of the push during the past two decades to garner cooperation from museums regarding research within their collections with an eye toward the matter of Holocaust-era plunder and restitution, there was such stiff opposition within the museum community: they often asserted that, as bastions of civilization it was unthinkable that they might have ill-gotten gains within their walls)—then museums must exhaust every possibility and extend every effort to educate, teach their audiences and not just show them beautiful works of art.

Stroll through some museums and consider how much information regarding ownership history is available—particularly works that came into the collections between, say, 1935 and 1965. Examine the label next to paintings, perhaps some of those at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum gifted to the museum by the Weitzenhoffer family and purchased by them from the David Findlay gallery in New York, as they had purchased La Bergère from that gallery and gifted it to the museum; or the label identifying Egon Schiele’s Dead City III, hanging on a wall at the Leopold Museum in Vienna;
Dead City III, by Egon Schiele
 or the label discussing the pastel, Landscape with Smokestacks, by Edgar Degas, at the Art Institute of Chicago;


Landscape with smokestacks, by Edgar Degas

or the label next to that beautiful set of Louis XV furniture at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris that belonged to a Jewish family before the war still struggling to gain acknowledgment of its claim—


Musee Carnavalet
or better, examine the labels of paintings and statuary that have not been claimed by Holocaust survivors or their heirs, that have not made the news, the recent circumstances of which have not forced the museums to think about the information that they provide to their audiences. How much do you get from this examination exercise?

Ask yourself—and if the answer is too minimal and unsatisfactory, ask the museum—what is the story within the history of this painting and who owned it? How did its ownership change, particularly in the last century—particularly between 1930 and 1945? Do it! If the Museums don’t educate the public and if the public doesn’t push the museums to educate them more effectively with regard to this, among the myriad aspects of interest in the discussion of art and culture, then what is the purpose of the museum experience beyond aesthetics? How is civilization being preserved when the key details pertaining to the history of objects created and enjoyed by and bought and sold by or stolen from fellow humans disappears from our telling and our understanding?

If it is to matter, our museum staffs must educate ourselves and care about educating ourselves as much about this as about other aspects of the works that we collect and study; and we must further the educational process by educating our audiences—so that they will continue to press us to be more educated in order to educate them better.

In the realm of Nazi-plundered art there is a further turn to this screw. The educational process—even more than the occasionally achieved restitution of cultural property to its pre-Nazi owners or their heirs that research may yield—is also part of another key aspect of human experience and a facilitator of education regarding civilization (indeed an integral part of the process of shaping civilization): memory. In learning and teaching about Raoul Meyer, or the Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg (no relation to Alfred, of course) or the Dutch banker Fritz Gutmann, we remember those who were an important part of the patronage and ownership of classical and modern art—those whom the Nazis sought not only to divest of their art and their lives but whom they sought to de-humanize and efface from human memory.

Museums’ failures to educate themselves and their audiences regarding those whose works now grace their galleries mark a continuous, posthumous fulfillment of Hitler’s goal of obliteration. Those who make a real effort to learn and teach about those patrons and collectors—often (not always) champions of modern art that had only small audiences in the first third of the twentieth century—offer an ongoing challenge to everything that Hitler and his minions stood for. To offer that challenge is a modest enough and fulfillable goal for institutions claiming to be bastions of civilizations and preservers of human culture.


28 May 2015

Stop the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts by EVE auction house in Paris on June 1, 2015!

Editor’s note: We are publishing a letter co-signed by a group of dedicated scholars and museum directors who are outraged that the French government is allowing for the sixth time in over a year the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts through an auction house called EVE. The sale is slated for June 1, 2015. A seventh sale is slated for June 10, 2015. The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (Council of Voluntary Sales) is a regulatory body which oversees the French auction market. In past attempts to stop these sales, the CVV defiantly noted that the history of ownership or provenance of the objects is merely optional and, more importantly, the Hopi or any other indigenous group or tribe has no legal standing in France to assert a claim of ownership on their objects which, oftentimes, reach the market illicitly.

In the case of these Hopi artifacts referred to as “friends” by their rightful owners, the Hopi, these objects are entering the French market after circulating through a semi-clandestine black market in the United States populated by thieves and established dealers from the Southwest to the hallowed streets of Manhattan in New York City. Under the very nose of the FBI, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security, these ill-gotten objects have left US territory for one reason and one reason only: they cannot be sold legally in the US and the French are more than happy to welcome them so that they can be sold off to a predominately ignorant public despite a permanent cloud on their title.

In order to stop the June 1, 2015, of the claimed objects, a letter is being sent to François Hollande, President of France.]



May 27, 2015



The Honorable François Hollande

Président de la République Française

Palais de l’Elysée

55, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré

75006 Paris

FRANCE



BY EMAIL & TELEFAX



RE: AUCTION SALE OF SACRED HOPI OBJECTS SCHEDULED FOR JUNE 1, 2015



Mr. President Hollande,



We, the undersigned, are the directors or leaders of several large U.S. institutions with significant collections and interests in Native American art and culture. Collectively, our staffs consist of leading scholars in the field of Native American studies who have significant and long-standing expertise and knowledge of the culture of Native American groups in the Southwest United States, including the Hopi Tribe and the New Mexico Pueblo tribes. Over the past 3 years, we have been appalled by the continued willingness of auction houses in Paris, and in particular the EVE auction house, to proceed with sales which include items described by the Hopi Tribe as “katsina friends,” and that the auction houses have offensively described as “masques katsinam.”



Several of us have, on prior occasions, requested that these auction houses withdraw the katsina friends from sale and that these sacred, communally owned objects be promptly returned to the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes who are their rightful owners. As we have explained in the past, the katsina friends are communal property and cannot be sold by any tribal individual. Furthermore, while katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come and are cared for by specific ceremonial societies or clans. Under both tribal custom and tribal, state and federal law, they cannot be sold or given away by any individual. As a result, they cannot be legitimately privately owned by individual collectors or institutions, as legal title under tribal, state and federal law could never pass to anyone other than the applicable tribe. Thus, the sale of such items constitutes the sale of stolen property, which is obviously legally prohibited, both in the United States and around the world. While the Hopi Tribe first enacted statutes specifically prohibiting the sale of katsina friends and other communal religious objects in the 1970s, the Hopi and other tribes have openly and notoriously prohibited such sales by communal law and custom since the first contact with non-Natives in the Southwest.

Today, the sale of such objects violates various federal, state and tribal statutes that protect the United States’ cultural resources and tribal property, and prohibit trafficking in stolen goods and various species of birds. In addition to these laws, U.S. case law has clearly established that buying or selling katsina friends is a crime under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”). EVE auction house’s statements that NAGPRA does not have criminal prohibitions on the trafficking in katsina friends or in other NAGPRA defined sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony are a blatant and offensive misstatement of U.S. law.

As such, we are shocked to hear that the EVE auction house has, yet again, scheduled another sale that includes the illegal sale of several katsina friends for June 1, 2015 in Paris.

As we have indicated on prior occasions, we can reasonably assert that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is not only illegal, but is causing and will continue to cause significant outrage, sadness and distress among members the affected tribes. For them, katsina friends are living beings, which is why they are called “friends” (kwatsi) in the Hopi language. The friends are loved, cared for, and ceremonially fed. They are a connection between the human world and the spirits of all living things and the ancestors. To be displayed disembodied in an auction catalogue and on the internet is sacrilegious and offensive. If one claims to value these katsina friends as “works of art”, one must also respect the people who made them and the native traditions that govern their ownership and use. As fellow human beings, it is our hope that you will offer understanding and empathy to the tribal people who are so deeply damaged and affected by this proposed sale. You cannot honor and value these katsina friends while dishonoring their rightful owners. These are universal principles of cross-cultural human conduct which France has continuously endorsed throughout World history.

Furthermore, we are highly concerned to have learned that, twice already, the Hopi Tribe and their representatives have attempted to suspend prior auction sales in Paris through a body controlled by your government, called the “Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (or “CVV”), which has the power to suspend auction sales or to force the withdrawal of certain objects from a sale where sufficient doubt exists on the provenance of these objects. We were especially appalled to learn that, twice, the CVV refused to withdraw katsina friends in prior proceedings by holding the incomprehensible position that neither the Hopi Tribe, nor individual Hopi tribal members, had any legal standing to challenge these sales. This grotesque jurisprudence flies in the face of the long-standing recognition of Native American tribal sovereignty and the fact that U.S. law clearly establishes that federally recognized Indian Tribes have the power to sue in any number of matters. The Hopi Tribe is an ancient culture — with more than 14,117 enrolled members today — that has remained steadfast to its culture, language, heritage and spirituality. It is also a sovereign nation federally recognized by the U.S. government and should be treated accordingly.

Additionally, we are quite troubled by the lack of legal equity and apparent prejudice that the French legal system opposes against American parties, such as Indian Tribes, while at the same time, French museum institutions are the first ones to seek and successfully obtain the leverage of the American legal system when they are plaintiffs in claims involving cultural property stolen in France and subsequently transferred to the United States.

On behalf of the undersigned museums, we request your official intervention to stop the June 1 auction of the katsina friends, and do everything in your power to obtain their swift and prompt restitution to the Hopi people.

Sincerely,

Robert Breunig, Ph.D.
President
The Museum of Northern Arizona

John Bulla
Interim Director & CEO
Heard Museum


Janice Klein
Executive Director
Museum Association of Arizona

Jonathan Batkin
Director
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Michael F. Brown
President
School for Advanced Research

Christoph Heinrich, Ph.D.
Director
Denver Art Museum



Cc: Gérard Araud
Ambassador of France to the United States
The Embassy of France to the United States
4101 Reservoir Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
By e-mail: Gerard.araud@diplomatie.gouv.fr



Cc: Cabinet de la Présidence de la République



M. Jean-Pierre Jouyet
Secrétaire général
By e-mail: jean-pierre.jouyet@elysee.fr

M. Thierry Lataste
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: thierry.lataste@elysee.fr

M. Jacques Audibert
Conseiller diplomatique
By e-mail: jacques.audibert@elysee.fr

Mme Audrey Azoulay
Conseillère Culture et communication
By e-mail: Audrey.Azoulay@elysee.fr

Mme Françoise Tomé
Conseillère Justice
By e-mail: francoise.tomé@elysee.fr

M. Adrien Abecassis
Conseiller Affaires Bilatérales
Cellule Diplomatique
By e-mail: Adrien.abecassis@elysee.fr


Christiane Taubira
Garde des Sceaux, Ministre de la Justice
13, Place Vendôme
75042 Paris Cedex 01 FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-44-77-60-02
By e-mail: Christiane.Taubira@justice.gouv.fr

Anne Berriat
Directrice adjointe de cabinet
By e-mail: Anne.Berriat@justice.gouv.fr

Carle Deveille-Fontinha
Conseillère Diplomatique
By e-mail: Carla.deveille-fontinha@justice.gouv.fr



Fleur Pellerin
Ministre de la Culture et de la Communication
3, rue de Valois
75001 Paris FRANCE
BY e-mail: Fleur.Pellerin@culture.gouv.fr
Fax: (011) 33-1-40-15-85-30

Fabrice Bakhouche
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: fabrice.bahouche@culture.gouv.fr



Laurent Fabius
Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international
37 Quai d’Orsay
75007 Paris FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-43-17-40-94
By e-mail: Laurent.Fabius@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Alexandre Ziegler
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: Alexandre.Ziegler@diplomatie.gouv.fr

M. Benoît Guidée
Conseiller des affaires étrangères, Asie, Amérique
By e-mail: benoit.guidee@diplomatie.gouv.fr



Catherine Chadelat
Conseillère d’Etat
Présidente
Conseil des Ventes Volontaires
19 Avenue de l'opéra
75001 PARIS, France
By e-mail : c.chadelat@conseildesventes.fr
Par Fax: 01-53-45-89-20

Cc: John McCain
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2235
Fax: (202) 228-2862



Jeff Flake
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
Senate Russell Office Building 368
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202-224-4521
Fax: 202-228-0515



Ann Kirkpatrick
U.S. Representative, Arizona First District
U.S. House of Representatives
201 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3361
Fax: 202-225-3462



Raoul Grijalva
U.S. Representative Arizona Third District
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. Office
1511 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2435
Fax: (202) 225-1541

Paul Gosar
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fourth District
U.S. House of Representatives
504 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2315

Matt Salmon
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fifth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2349 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2635
Fax: (202) 226-4386

David Schweikert
U.S. Representative, Arizona Sixth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1205 Longworth House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2190
Fax: (202) 225-0096

Trent Franks
U.S. Representative, Arizona Eighth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2435 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4576
Fax: (202) 225-6328

Krysten Sinema
U.S. Representative, Arizona Ninth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1237 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-9888

Cc : Her Excellency, Jane D. Hartley
U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and to the Principality of Monaco
U.S. Embassy in France
2 avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08, France
Fax: (011) 33-1-42669783
By e-mail: HartleyDJ@state.gov

The Honorable Loretta Lynch
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001 U.S.A.
By e-mail: loretta.lynch@usdoj.gov

The Honorable James B. Comey
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001 U.S.A.

Sally Jewell
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240 U.S.A.
By e-mail: sally_jewell@ios.doi.gov, sallyjewell@ios.doi.gov, sally.jewell@ios.doi.gov,
exsec_exsec@ios.doi.gov

Herman G. Honanie
Chairman
Hopi Tribal Council
Fax: (928) 734-6665
By email: hopicouncil@hopi.nsn.us
P.O. Box 123
Kykotsmovi, AZ 86039
By e-mail: HeHonanie@hopi.nsn.us

Cc: Ori Z. Soltes
Director
Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Inc.
c/o 5114 Westridge Road
Bethesda, MD 20816-1623
By e-mail: orisoltes@gmail.com

Pierre Ciric, Esq.
Member of the Firm
The Ciric Law Firm, PLLC
17A Stuyvesant Oval
New York, NY 10009
By e-mail: pciric@ciriclawfirm.com

Memorial Day Ruminations



by Ori Z Soltes

Three related issues interwove themselves in my mind thanks to a serendipitous catching up with emails on this sunny Memorial Day weekend. Since "memorial" derives from the same Latin root as "memory" then it is particularly appropriate that, on a weekend when we are reminded to remember our war dead, the singular human capacity for memory and its verbal, visual and other articulations direct itself to related matters pertaining to the dead--and the living--from a range of different kinds of wars.

I was impressed by the youtube record of a brief speech by Eric Sundby, president of the student-run Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society at Oklahoma University in Norman, OK. The speech was in support of a resolution before the Oklahoma State legislature, HR 1026, that would call on the Fred Jones Museum of Oklahoma University to engage in a full process of provenance research.

In his speech, Sundby observed that, in practical terms, this means that the museum must both research the ownership history of objects in its collections that were acquired without the benefit of that research at the time of acquisition, and for which there is the possibility that they were stolen; and that it must commit itself to rigorously research the ownership history of potential acquisitions in the future.

The specific issue that prompted the legislation and Sundby's speech is the claim by Leone Meyer, in France, for the small Pissarro painting, La Bergère ("The Shepherdess"), which was stolen (together with dozens of other works of art) from the Meyer family, by the Nazis, under the aegis of the Alfred Rosenberg-guided task force whose purpose it was to plunder cultural property from the Nazis' victims. (Rosenberg's earlier claim to fame had been his orchestration of the Nazi theory that differentiated "Aryans" from Jews, Slavs, Roma and others, physiologically, mentally and morally).
La Bergere, by Camille Pissarro


As anyone who is interested in the issue of Nazi-Plundered cultural property is aware, the President of Oklahoma University and the Director of the Fred Jones Museum have steadfastly refused to consider restituting the painting to Ms. Meyer, based on a remarkable combination of pseudo-legal technicalities and egocentric obtuseness. Sundby referred to the Museum's assertion that restitution would set "a bad precedent" and that "the history of [the painting's] ownership history is not known." Sundby held up a document from the US Archives, stamped with Alfred Rosenberg's ERR Task Force stamp, indicating unequivocally that  La Bergère was item #13 plundered from the Meyer family.
Meyer 13-RG 260 M1943 Reel 15 NARA

ERR labeling on photo of Meyer 13
The Museum's refusal to accord justice and pursue an ethical path in the face of remarkably clear evidence as to the Nazi theft of the Pissarro from the Meyers, and its cynical use of an earlier failed effort by Meyer's father to gain restitution in Switzerland, (due, at the time, to what is now universally regarded as a faulty legal issue: the time limits within which claims might be made and to the Swiss judiciary's refusal to call into question the "good faith" of art dealers suspected of recycling art looted in Axis-controlled Europe) as a legal precedent, is profoundly disturbing. This is what has prompted virtually the entire state of Oklahoma, from students and ordinary citizens to State legislators, to rise up in protest and demand restitution.

Almost equally troubling is the documentary evidence suggesting that well over a decade ago a colleague from a different museum had alerted the Fred Jones museum curators of a potential provenance problem with this painting--and perhaps with some 30 others that had come from the same source--and that the Museum staff chose to minimize the alert at that time. That is to say, they chose not to engage in provenance research (and in this case, that research would not have been overly complicated), as if they had hoped that the issue would disappear.

Instead, it has returned, with a vengeance. Which leads me to the second issue that has been bothering me this weekend. The verbiage of HR 1026 is virtually drawn, in its entirety, from statements made well over a decade ago by Museum Directors in both the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD) in response to a concatenation of public events that began with an all-day conference at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish museum and the founding of HARP (September 4, 1997); and led to the HARP-inspired State Department conference that produced the so-called Washington Principles (in December 1998), signed by nearly four dozen nations at that time.

The august statements made by both AAM and AAMD pledged strong new efforts toward provenance research and a concerted effort to restitute works in their collections that had been plundered by the Nazis, where victims or their heirs could be found. Alas, the track record has meandered gradually downhill for the most part since then, as, with some noteworthy exceptions, American museums preferred to downplay the demand for provenance research and in many cases resisted the requests of claimants for judicious consideration of their claims, for their plundered works and for justice.

More subtly, museums still offer remarkably little information about works of art to their visitors, with respect to the narrative of plunder within the narrative of ownership. Where bona fide art historical enquiry should crave every bit of information about a work of art--who made it and when and where, and also who first and then who next owned it, and indeed what the entire trail of ownership up to the present has been--for this last sort of datum is essential to the larger story of culture and within it, economics and cultural patronage--the available information to the staff, by the staff and to the public (that the museum presumably wants to educate and edify and not merely entertain), remains remarkably limited.

In part this is because of the apparent limits on museum-staff skill at engaging in provenance research--at reading and understanding the documents that offer information on ownership history. (How else could the Fred Jones Museum argue that the provenance of La Bergère is unknown, when the archival documents are so clear?) Mind you, the museum and gallery community has continued to mouth its interest in understanding all of this better, but when seminars and short courses have been made available to it, the classroom remains devoid of participation from that community. If the museums don't understand or cannot tell the story of objects that have been plundered, they certainly cannot be expected to understand why restitution even matters, much less be sympathetic to the process; they cannot be expected to share a story that they don't know with their audiences. The trail from 1997 to 2015 and from Washington, DC to Norman, Oklahoma is a rugged one, with very uneven footing.

The contexts of history and art history are large ones. I noticed while watching Sundby's youtube-recorded speech that, in the background, behind him, there stood a life-sized bronze statue of a Native American. From my viewing angle it appeared generic: a non-specific American Indian. But then I thought--this is Oklahoma, after all--that the sculpture may well have been of a Cherokee. And I thought: how ironic! In 1838 in what is known as the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands of Cherokee, native to Georgia and surrounding areas were force-marched all the way to Oklahoma. The reason: white Euro-American settlers wanted access to the rich farmland and forests that the Cherokee had inhabited for generations. The outcome: a small-scale genocide. Thousands of Cherokee perished along the way to Oklahoma, where those who survived the journey were forced to take up residence in an area reserved for them--a reservation--that offered nothing like the land from which they and come, nothing that would be conducive to living lives anything like those they lived back east.

North America, then, and the United States in particular, has a lamentable history with regard to the treatment of Native Americans by whites and by the white federal government. So--and this is third part of my interwoven Memorial Day rumination--there on youtube is a functional symbol of that horrific past, a past which the United States is still in the process of trying to shape toward a happier present. And before that symbol a speech is being offered to support legislation intended to push an American museum to restitute a painting to the heir of a family that was part of a different tale of tears.

And meanwhile, in Paris, in the country from which that Jewish claimant comes, the EVE auction house is about to offer up, for the third time in barely a year, objects sacred to various Native American tribes--in this case, specifically the Hopis, from Arizona. The French have apparently completely forgotten that they are signatories to acts that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples world-wide with regard, among other things, to their cultural and sacred heritage and property. American dealers who know that they cannot hope to unload others' sacred property anywhere in the United States have turned to France to help preserve and extend this particular tale and trail of tears.

Mr. Sundby, in his elegantly concise speech with that statue behind him and the ERR document before him observed that his organization supports the legislation of HR 1026 because "we stand for our community, our nation and our fellow human beings." As students at Oklahoma University, his organization would prefer their tuition dollars to go toward, well, education, and not toward lining the pockets of lawyers defending a classic, unethical case. But it seems that the Fred Jones Museum has forgotten about moral education, as have most of the American museum staffs who remain uneducated with regard to provenance research and its role in larger historical and cultural contexts, and as the French and their auction houses seem to have forgotten about the meaning of community and of humanity. Memory is an important human instrument but a flawed one indeed, particularly when it is embedded so deeply in ego and arrogance.