28 November 2017

Abrupt cancellation of an exhibit on Max Stern

by Angelina Giovani

The following text can be found on a petition to protest the cancellation of an exhibit on a Jewish art dealer named Max Stern, who lived in Düsseldorf, Germany, until forced to liquidate his gallery and its inventory because he was Jewish. An exhibit highlighting his life and accomplishments was scheduled to open at the Stadtmuseum of Düsseldorf in February 2018.

However, Thomas Geisel, the lord mayor of the city of Düsseldorf. decided to cancel the exhibit. It had been in preparation for the past three years, and was to travel from Düsseldorf to the Haifa Museum of Art in Israel and to the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Max Stern was a Jewish art dealer and collector who inherited his family’s renowned art gallery in Düsseldorf in 1934, at the time of his father’s death. A victim of Nazi persecution, he was prohibited by the Reichskammer der bildenden Künst (RKdbK) to practice as an art dealer and was instructed to liquidate his gallery and its assets. Stern auctioned off his gallery stock in two sales, selling the works at below market value. The first forced sale took place at the Lempertz auction house in Cologne on November 13, 1937; Stern sold the residual at a second forced sale in Düsseldorf on December 15, 1937. He left for Paris on December 23, 1937 and on July 12, 1939 he lost his German citizenship.

The exhibition on Max Stern’s life is a big step into bringing forward issues which emphasize problems of ownership history and the need for a continuous debate on how we approach provenance research. The reason given by the city government for the cancellation the exhibition is “the current demands for information and restitution in German museums in connection with the “Galerie Max Stern”. It is for these issues that it is of paramount importance for the exhibition to be allowed to take place in the hope that it will encourage other similar ventures in the future.

We urge Thomas Geisel, Lord Mayor of Düsseldorf, to reconsider his decision and allow the exhibition to proceed as planned. The Max Stern exhibition would encourage a positive and productive discussion about the events that took place in Nazi Germany and mark a decisive step in detaching the city’s history from its troubled past, which saw it welcome nationalist socialist ideas and characters of the likes of Hildebrand Gurlitt in the 1940s or 50s, when he became director of the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf.

A lot of effort, resources and hard work by serious individuals and institutions went into this project and it would be unethical to take such extreme measures at the eleventh hour, against a project that aims to educate and inform the public. This exhibition on Max Stern could very well be a giant leap towards addressing the very issues on restitution of Nazi cultural dispossessions of Jewish-owned property that seem to underscore the cancellation of the exhibition.

With the above in mind you are encouraged to sign this petition so that we can show that there are many who care and believe that the course of action chosen by the Lord Mayor of Düsseldorf is unacceptable and deeply troubling.

To sign the petition, click on the link.