29 October 2017

The top 10 plundered art articles

by Marc Masurovsky

The plundered art blog was born without anyone noticing it in May 2010.  As so many of these ventures go, nothing much was done in the first six months until December 23, 2010, when two brief pieces appeared which summarized the birth of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) and events leading up to its establishment in September 1997.  On Christmas Eve 2010, perhaps on a lark, I wrote a review of “The Night of The Generals”, a campy film about anti-Hitler stirrings amongst the German general staff. My way of dipping my pinky toe in the murky waters of blogging.

2011 is when the juices began to flow and HARPs’ blog, plundered art, started to take shape.  For those of you who operate blogs on your own time, ad-free, with no staff other than yourselves, you know how much emotional and physical energy is required to keep such an adventure from becoming cybernetic driftwood and another digital artifact floating across the Internet ether.

Fast forward to October 29, 2017.

Time to take stock of the past six years, 307 articles later, all devoted in some fashion or form, directly, indirectly, to the broad topic of cultural plunder in the context of genocide, the challenges implicit in the identification and recovery of looted objects found in public and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Many articles were written out of spite, despair, impatience, irritation, annoyance, and also out of a genuine desire to inform and to share some knowledge about events that transpired more than 75 years ago and continue to haunt us today, should you ever be paying attention to them.

Politics permeate the way that we view art, and in particular art with problematic histories. This is where provenance enters into the discussion; a word that I never paid attention to until the Schiele scandalof late 1997, early 1998, grabbed headlines in New York and Vienna, shaking the art world because New York city policemen dared enter the temple of art and money that is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), to remove from it two paintings executed by the bad boy of Vienna, Egon Schiele, that were suspected of having been plundered in the aftermath of the March 1938 Anschluss from two Jewish owners, victimized by the Nazis.

Politics inform the stories underlying countless numbers of works and objects of art, because history has a nasty way of interfering with their peregrinations through time and space, from the moment they exit the artist’s studio to the moment that they adorn the wall of a living room, dining room, bedroom or languish as ripening investments in freeport bunkers located in “neutral” territories like Switzerland, Singapore, and god knows where else, out of reach, out of mind, lost to the world.

Enough of this rhetoric.

It is my pleasure to present to you the top 10 articles which have graced the virtual pages of the “plundered art” blog. In honor of David Letterman, we will count them down in reverse order from 10 to 1.

[drum roll]

Deconstructing Aphrodite, published on January 28, 2012
ERR database-Georges Bernheim, published on April 2011
Franz Marc's "The large blue horses," published on January 5, 2012

Interestingly enough, the three top articles published by plundered art each pertain to a work of art, produced by Franz Marc, Jacopo Zucchi, and Paul Klee.

Let's hear it for.....

“The red horses”, by Franz Marc, published on January 3, 2012
Jacopo Zucchi, “the bath of Bathsheba”, published on August 2, 2011

And the all-time winner which has outpaced its rivals in no uncertain terms like a steed racing across the finish line at a race track of your choosing...

[extra drum rolls]

Angelus Novus, Angel of History, by Paul Klee, published on February 26, 2013

Last thoughts before calling it a day:

It gives me hope, in these times of grave uncertainties where the word “ethics” appears to have been gutted of any meaning, where it apparently is still ok to steal thy neighbor’s property because you are likely not to get caught—plunder, once again, is the only crime against humanity that pays for itself— that a savant blend of art, history, politics, war, justice, and ethics, still arouses interest and even passion amongst you out there, yes, you who are spread out across the seven seas and every continent, encompassing more than 60 countries—yes, that is the breadth of our readership, however impossible it is to verify whether you are mere digital echoes resulting from spam assaults or unsuccessful hacks (as in the Russian case), or men and women of all ages (yes, we do have readers who are in high school) who have expressed an interest in the fate of art objects misappropriated during acts of mass conflict and genocide, and which the art market and privately owned as well as government-run museums refuse to return to their rightful owners for a variety of inexplicable reasons. It is for you, the reader, that this blog exists.