Recollecting: Looted Art and Restitution; Exhibition 3 December 2008 - 15 February 2009, Museum of Applied Arts Vienna

Events and Conferences

The exhibition, which took place at the Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, MAK (Österreichisches Museum fuer angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst), was described by the Museum as set out below and in a blog posted by Gwilym Williams on 3 December 2008, also below:

Museum's description:

"The show entitled “RECOLLECTING” presents art and everyday objects from Jewish possession and their history between robbery and restitution. Especially for the exhibition, new artworks were created which put this issue of controversial topicality in a present-day perspective.

The significance that restitution has for the heirs is linked with questions of cultural identity, history policy, individual recollection and the collective memory.

The show also casts light on exemplary aspects of the Nazi bureaucracy and its continuities in the Austrian restitution policy after 1945 as well as an on the present-day practice of provenance research and active search for heirs as is currently being conduced by a number of Austrian museums and institutions.

The exhibition features both restituted objects and pieces whose rightful owners are still being searched. The about 100 loans come from private possession in Austria, Great Britain, Switzerland, and the USA as well as from museums and institutions in Austria and abroad and comprise pieces from former collections of paintings and porcelain, but also everyday items such as furniture, books, photographs, and even a car.

At the same time, 14 art projects informed by the restitution cases represented in the show will reflect subjects such as the Nazi bureaucracy of robbery, collection and family histories, and the present-day awareness of restitution.

Artists participating: Carola Dertnig, Ines Doujak, Arnold Dreyblatt, Maria Eichhorn, Vera Frenkel, Rainer Ganahl, Klub Zwei, Michaela Melián, Christian Philipp Müller, Lisl Ponger, Silke Schatz, Till Velten, Arye Wachsmuth/Sophie Lillie.

The MAK particularly qualifies as the venue of this exhibition since even before the Art Restitution Act was passed in 1998 the museum actively addressed the problem of unrightfully acquired and inventoried items in its collections and their restitution.

Moreover, the MAK also hosted the 1996 “Mauerbach Benefit Sale” organized by the London-based auction house Christie’s on behalf of the Federal Association of Jewish Communities of Austria, and thus the museum took a clear political stance early on." 

Looted Art and Restitution

The extensive looting of Jewish property after the „Anschluss“ of Austria in 1938 represents a significant aspect of the politics of expulsion and extermination waged by the National Socialist regime. Many of the artworks and artifacts that were „aryanized“ during this period still remain in museums, libraries, or in unidentifiable private collections. Only as recently as ten years ago did a systematic search for these objects in the collections of public institutions begin with the intent of an eventual restitution to their rightful owners.

The public debate surrounding the topic of restitution has mostly been framed by the example of prominent artworks such as Gustav Klimt’s „Golden Adele,“ which has come to be perceived more as a „loss“ for Austria than a restoration of lawful ownership. The personal significance this restitution could have for the original owners and their descendants, now, 70 years after the looting, has for the most part remained unseen or neglected.

MAK Exhibition views

  The exhibition Recollecting. Looted Art and Restitution traces the original confiscation and the long delayed return of artworks and everyday objects, contextualizing selected examples with the life stories of their original owners. Works specifically conceived for the exhibition by contemporary artists open up additional perspectives on issues of cultural identity, politics of history, personal recollections, and collective memory.

- Ines Doujak, Adé, Adele!, 2008, Collage
- Lucas Cranach, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Madonna and Child in a Landscape, ca. 1518, Oil on cradled panel, 41.9 x 26 cm, Philipp von Gomperz Collection, Vienna , Austria , (looted by the Nazis,1940; restituted, 2000)

An exhibition by UNLIMITED in cooperation with the MAK
Curator: Alexandra Reininghaus
Co-curator: Luisa Ziaja
Curatorial assistance: Veronika Floch
Historical consulting and scientific contribution: Niko Wahl, Christian Klösch
With artistic contributions by: Carola Dertnig, Ines Doujak, Arnold Dreyblatt, Maria Eichhorn, Vera Frenkel, Rainer Ganahl, Klub Zwei, Michaela Melián, Christian Philipp Müller, Lisl Ponger, Silke Schatz, Till Velten, Arye Wachsmuth / Sophie Lillie
Exhibition management: Veronika Floch (UNLIMITED), Sabrina Handler (MAK)
Exhibition architecture, Concept, technical coordination: Michael Wallraff
Exhibition architecture, concept: Gregor Eichinger
Exhibition installation: Karin Haas, Ludwig Kittinger, Julia Wechselberger
Exhibition texts, scientific editor: Leonhard Weidinger
Funded by Bundesministerium f. Unterricht, Kunst u. Kultur, Kulturabteilung der Stadt Wien, Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich and Christie’s, The Altmann Family, Novomatic, Filmhaus Wien

Exhibition term: 03.12.2008–15.02.2009

Gwilym Williams' blog:

"Outside Vienna's Museum of Applied and Contemporary Arts there is an old car. The car is in a large red container with one open side. It is an exhibit in an exhibtion titled Recollecting: Raub und Restitution / Looted Art and Restitution. The car is a 1931 Fiat 522C. It once belonged to a respected Vienna citizen, a man called Moritz Glückselig. In 1938 the vehicle was confiscated by the authorities. The reason was simple. The owner was Jewish. As a Jew he had no right to posses a car. Did he not know of the Jüdisches Gut wird Volksgut law which said Jewish property is the People's Property? It would appear not.

By 3rd December 1939, another new law regarding motor cars and motor cycles was on the books. This new law prohibited Jews from driving. Not much use having a car then, even such a handsome and prestigious vehicle as a Fiat 522C. And anyway you can't drive a car when you are locked-up in Dachau and Buchenwald, as Mr Glückselig was soon to find out. Once Mr Glückselig was safely ensconced in his new quarters his People's vehicle was disposed of by the VUGESTA, the Secret Police for the Administration of Jewish Relocation Property whose other duties included collecting Reich Flight Tax (this has nothing to do with airline fuel surcharges by the way). Mr Glückselig did not perish in Buchenwald and he was not shipped to Auschwitz. He later surfaced in Argentina where he opened a Deli.

Brigitte Bermann-Fischer was fond of her Camille Pissarro painting Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut until the VUGESTA knocked on the door and took it away along with all her other property including her books; her favourites being those on Austrian music. In 2002 she found her books in the Austrian National Library. She knew they were hers because they had her name and her ex libris inside their front covers. In 2007, after years of searching, she found her beloved painting. It was in the Kantonalbank in Zürich.

The People's new artworks were distributed by VUGESTA through the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz the 'Central Office for the Protection of Monuments'. This latter organization was renamed the Institut für Denkmalpflege the 'Institute for the Care of Monuments' in 1940. Under the Führervorbehalt that is the Führer Priority Proviso of 1938 a man named Hans Posse was appointed to select the works deemed suitable for the proposed Führermuseum in Linz, Upper Austria. The last photo of the Führer in his Berlin Bunker shows him gazing lovingly at a plywood model of the capital of Ostmark and presumably the Führermuseum.

The banker Phillip Gomperz was a wealthy man. He lived in Palais Tedesco (The German Palace) in Vienna's fashionable shopping street, Kärntnerstraße. He fled with his family to Brno (Czech) and made his way from there to Switzerland. His sister Marie died in Brno in 1940, the year the VUGESTA cleared out the Palais Tedesco. Cornelia died in Bern in 1944. Phillip Gomperz passed away in 1948 in Montreux. Ten of his artworks had the honour of being selected for the Linz museum. Art was moved by truck or train in the night. Sometimes in crates, other times under a tarpaulin. Paintings were sold in Switzerland or like two of Gomperz's favourite paintings, a Gauermann and a Spitzweg, they were hidden in tunnels in Austrian salt mines.

In 1945 the US Army created four collecting points in a former NSDAP building in Munich. Here works of art were brought with a view to restoring them to their owners. When the Americans closed the collecting points in 1950 they handed 1,000 artworks to Austria on the understanding that they should try to trace the owners and return the property. The Austrians decided to put the artworks in a safe place. And where is safer than a monastery? The Federal Office for the Care of Monuments situated in the Carthusian Monastery at Mauerbach was just the place. Here work to trace the owners of 8,000 stolen artworks could be carried on in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and quiet. Or could it? Very few works were returned. Work seemed to go on at a snail's pace or more aptly at the pace of a monk wandering around a quadrangle deep in thought, deep in prayer. In 1996, following the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets "the remaining objects" were auctioned off at the Mauerbach Benefit Sale.

An interesting side to the exhibition is the appearance of lists of appropriated property with official Nazi stamps and signatures and comments regarding the estimated value of articles. A family's photos and other personal effects would be entered on the same typed official lists as artworks and then marked down by a qualified official in the appropriate column in red ink as wertlos, that is to say 'of no worth', before disappearing forever."

Exhibition details:  

Guest Curator
Alexandra Reininghaus

Tuesday, 2 December, 8.00 p.m.

On the exhibition
Peter Noever Director MAK
Alexandra Reininghaus MAK Guest Curator
Andreas Mailath-Pokorny City Councillor for Cultural Affairs and Science

Claudia Schmied Federal Minister for Education, Art and Culture

A catalogue RECOLLECTING. Looted Art and Restitution was published in conjunction with the exhibition. Edited by Alexandrea Reininghaus, with contributions by Aleida Assmann, Ilsebill Barta, Eva Blimlinger, Constantin Goschler, Maren Gröning, Herbert Haupt, Anja Heuss, Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, Nicole Immler, Christian Klösch, Christina Köstner, Sophie Lillie, Monika Mayer, Peter Noever, Alfred Noll, Ruth Pleyer, Herbert Posch, Jan Björn Potthast, Jacques Rancière, Alexandra Reininghaus, Birgit Schwarz, Niko Wahl/Mirjam Triendl, Leonhard Weidinger, Harald Welzer, Margot Werner, Christian Witt-Dörring, Michael Wladika, Ruth Wodak/Rudolf de Cillia and Luisa Ziaja, Passagen Verlag, Vienna.

Book presentation

Tuesday, 13 January 2008, 8 p.m.

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