29 January 2015

The never-ending post-Gurlitt “process”

by Marc Masurovsky

What is one to make of all this hoopla concerning provenance research in Germany? It took an ill-managed investigation into the activities of an octogenarian art collector, Cornelius Gurlitt, followed by a raucous international outcry to stimulate a debate over how museums in Germany treat their collections and the extent of knowledge they possess about the origins of the objects they own and curate.
Monika Gruetters to the left of Chancellor Angela Merkl

Since the announcement in early 2014 by Monika Gruetters, German Minister for culture, that she would increase funding for provenance research into the origins of art works in German state collections, the post-Gurlitt “process” has become even more bogged down in bureaucratic molasses as if the creation of yet another organization will magically make the problem of looted art simply go away.

The new entity, German Lost Art Foundation (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste), will move to Magdeburg, Germany, in April 2015. Magdeburg is where one can find the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, run by Michael Franz and his deputy, Andrea Baresel-Brand. It is the official German governmental database on art looted during the Third Reich, known as lostart.de. One can find in that database the items which make up the residual of the Gurlitt collection, euphemistically known as the “Schwabing Art Trove.” The Foundation will receive 6 million dollars a year to bolster provenance research, or triple the annual allocation to provenance research in Germany up to now.

Judging by Ms. Gruetters’ own statements regarding the creation of the German Lost Art Foundation, the Office of Provenance Research (Arbeitsstelle fuer provenienzforschung), run by Uwe Hartmann, and the “Degenerate Art” program at the Free University of Berlin directed by Meike Hoffmann, will remain independent and might benefit from the largesse of the new Foundation.

Professor Uwe Schneede heads up the honorary board of the Foundation and Dr. Hermann Simon chairs its Research Council. Prof. Schneede is a highly respected figure in the German art world and Dr. Simon, head of the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin, a leading scholar of Jewish life in Germany and especially the Berlin Jewish community.
Hermann Simon
Uwe Schneede
A board of trustees (Stiftungsrat) constitutes the governing body of the Foundation which comprises 15 drawn from Federal, regional and municipal institutions throughout Germany. One big question concerns the funding of the Foundation: do the monies come only from German public sources or will there be an expectation that private entities should contribute to the Foundation? If so, which ones? How much information will the public receive on the underwriting of the Foundation and how it spends money on research?
The Foundation's Stiftungsrat
Added to this top-heavy approach to provenance research, let’s not forget the Kuratorium, an advisory body consisting of 9 to 11 individuals, some or all coming from outside Germany. Are they specialists, pundits, heavy lifters in international reparations negotiations relative to assets looted during WWII? None of this is clear. Why so many people to oversee provenance research in Germany? Are these 11 advisors going to be savvy about the intricacies of the ways in which artistic, cultural and ritualistic objects changed hands illegally between 1933 and 1945 or is this going to be another political love fest aimed at placating foreign critics of the German way of examining cases of cultural plunder dating back to the Third Reich?

For a full reading of the articles establishing the Foundation, please click on the following link: