26 June 2011

The Leopold Museum: where North and South meet

On 3 May 2011, the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna inaugurated its new section on “Tribal Art” by organizing a sale of over 100 high-quality items of African origin acquired over the decades by the late Dr. Rudolf Leopold. The Dr. Leopold who prolonged for decades the agony of the Bondi family by refusing to restitute to them their “Portrait of Walli” which had been misappropriated after the Anschluss of March 1938 by a Nazi art dealer, Friedrich Welz.

Dr. Kwame Opoku-Bonsu
Source: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
This same Dr. Leopold turned out to be an enthusiast of African art. Who would have known? Even the “Modern Ghana” author, Dr. Kwame Opoku, expresses his surprise, a surprise also shared by the Dorotheum.

Dr. Opuku wonders why there is a total absence of information on past ownership and sources for the African pieces sold by the Dorotheum, a situation that afflicts nearly all African artifacts available in developed nations. Surprise, surprise…

In short, the opaque and dubious practices of the Leopold Museum in acquiring 19th and 20th century works of art extended as well to African artifacts. Hence, North meets South at the Leopold Museum as the plight of African cultures to recover their prized possessions intersects with that of claimants seeking the return of their works of art looted during the Nazi era and currently owned by institutions such as the Leopold Museum.