A Nazi Legacy Haunts a Museum’s New Galleries


ZURICH — With the opening of an imposing extension on Saturday, the Zurich Kunsthaus turned Switzerland’s largest artwork museum. The huge new dice designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, reverse the unique constructing on a central sq., greater than doubles the museum’s exhibition house.

An ethereal atrium results in a newly put in backyard, and marble staircases take guests to spacious galleries bathed in filtered daylight. On the second ground, they will admire masterpieces by Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and Degas.

These works as soon as belonged to Emil Georg Bührle, a Swiss industrialist who died in 1956 however whose darkish legacy haunted the opening of the brand new $220-million extension. Though it has lengthy been recognized that Bührle made his fortune by promoting arms to Nazi Germany, and that he purchased artwork that was looted by the regime, new revelations preserve rising.

In August, a Swiss journal, Beobachter, reported that Bührle employed lots of of women and younger girls from troubled backgrounds in slave-labor-like situations in Switzerland as late because the 1950s. This month, the journal mentioned that in 1941, Bührle snapped up two Swiss spinning mills at discount costs after their earlier homeowners — Jews whose belongings in Germany had been “aryanized” in pressured gross sales — had fled to Argentina.

And two weeks earlier than the brand new extension’s opening, a e-book in regards to the Kunsthaus by the historian Erich Keller was printed. Its German title interprets as “The Contaminated Museum.”

“It’s troublesome,” mentioned Christoph Becker, the director of the Kunsthaus, after fielding questions from reporters at a information convention on Wednesday. “However the debate is an efficient factor.”

The connections between Bührle and the Kunsthaus date again to 1940, when Bührle turned a member of its board of trustees. He funded an earlier extension, accomplished in 1958. A bust and plaque on the entrance of an exhibition corridor named after him honor his contribution.

Now, 203 artworks belonging to the Basis E. G. Bührle Assortment, a company arrange by the industrialist’s household after his loss of life, have entered the Kunsthaus assortment on a 20-year mortgage. About 170 are on present within the new extension.

In a latest interview, Keller mentioned that the Kunsthaus ought to by no means have accepted the muse’s supply to place these works on show. “It’s a set constructed with cash from arms gross sales, from slave labor, from baby labor,” he mentioned.

Credit score…Kunsthaus Zürich

Born in 1890 in Germany, Bührle served within the nation’s military throughout World Warfare I, then began working for a software producer within the metropolis of Magdeburg. He moved to Zurich in 1924 to run an analogous operation, the place he patented and manufactured antiaircraft cannons for export world wide.

Throughout World Warfare II, his firm produced weapons for each the Allies and Nazi Germany, and Bührle turned the richest man in Switzerland. Although the Allies put his firm on a blacklist after the struggle, the boycott was lifted in 1946 and the enterprise continued to increase.

Between 1936 and 1956, Bührle purchased greater than 600 artworks — a few of them looted from Jews by the Nazis. In 1948, the Swiss Supreme Courtroom ordered him to return 13 items.

When Impressionist masterpieces from the gathering have been displayed on the Nationwide Gallery in Washington in 1990, the critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in The New York Instances that the museum “ought to by no means have undertaken” the exhibition. “The purpose isn’t that these works shouldn’t be seen, however that they need to be seen in a significant context,” he wrote.

In considered one of a dozen rooms dedicated to the Bührle assortment within the Kunsthaus’s new extension, a show addresses the industrialist’s profession and the provenance of his artwork with wall textual content, paperwork and images. Earlier than the present opened on the Kunsthaus, officers from town and area of Zurich commissioned a research from Zurich College, printed final yr, analyzing Bührle’s biography and the origins of the fortune he used to purchase artwork. The museum’s board of trustees consists of representatives of town and regional governments.

But accountability for analysis into the provenance of particular person artworks was out of that research’s scope. The Bührle Basis itself started conducting provenance analysis in 2002, and the outcomes are printed on the basis’s web site, although there isn’t any detailed possession historical past on the labels subsequent to the work on show within the Kunsthaus.

Lukas Gloor, the director of the Bührle Basis, mentioned in an interview that “right this moment, we are able to make sure that there isn’t any looted artwork, within the strictest sense, within the assortment,” however added, “We don’t rule out the likelihood that new data may come to mild.”

In his e-book, Keller voices misgivings in regards to the basis’s analysis, calling the provenance stories on its web site “a filter which withholds decisive information.”

He cites an 1879 Cézanne work, “Paysage,” for example. The inspiration’s web site doesn’t point out that its prewar homeowners, Martha and Berthold Nothmann, have been Jewish; it says the couple “left Germany in 1939,” as a substitute of spelling out that they fled persecution.

Monet’s 1880 “Poppy Discipline Close to Vétheuil” is one other contested work. Bührle purchased it in 1941 at a Swiss gallery for lower than half its market worth, based on a 2012 report by the historian Thomas Buomberger. It had been provided on the market by Hans Erich Emden, the son of a German Jewish department-store mogul whose belongings in Germany have been expropriated by the Nazis after he moved to Switzerland.

The inspiration rejected a declare from Emden’s heirs, arguing that the sale was not a results of Nazi persecution. Gloor mentioned that instances through which German Jews bought belongings whereas exiled in Switzerland shouldn’t essentially be thought-about gross sales beneath duress.

“Switzerland was not German-occupied; there was no persecution in Switzerland,” he mentioned. “Folks have been free to promote, or not promote.”

With the gathering’s transfer to the Kunsthaus, accountability for provenance analysis now rests with the museum, although any restitution resolution would fall to the muse because the proprietor, Gloor mentioned. He added that researchers had now been granted unrestricted entry to the muse’s archives, that are being stored on the museum.

Gloor mentioned he hoped impartial students would scrutinize the muse’s work. “I’m pleased for colleagues to ask questions or dig deeper,” he mentioned.

Corinne Mauch, Zurich’s mayor, mentioned in an interview that she hoped the Kunsthaus’s extension would strengthen Zurich’s attraction as a cultural vacation spot. “Zurich has at all times been perceived because the finance and banking middle,” she mentioned. “It has been gaining profile as a cultural middle lately. And this constructing is a milestone.”

She mentioned she stood behind the biographical analysis performed by the college and the provenance analysis by the Bührle Basis, which she described as a Swiss pioneer in researching the possession historical past of its artworks.

“It is very important present the work, however it will be important that we current them in an exemplary manner, which suggests confronting the problematic facets,” she mentioned. “I don’t suppose this debate will finish simply because we have now opened the extension.”

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