New York state passed a law in August requiring museums to conspicuously label works of art in collections looted during the Nazi era.
of legislation Works that were confiscated, seized, forcibly stolen, or changed ownership by involuntary means in Europe between 1933 and 1945 must be “placarded or otherwise marked” next to them. It obliges the institution to Six months later, however, and with no clear information surrounding its regulation, the law has yet to have its intended impact on most of New York City’s major museums.
Former New York State Senator Anna Kaplan, who introduced the bill in January 2021, said, “This bill was very important to me because about 600,000 paintings were stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. The intention was primarily educational.” She aims to shed light on the dark path some works take before reaching the museum. “I hope this continues, not just in New York, but in this country and hopefully around the world,” she said.
But defining what constitutes a work of art looted by the Nazis was never easy, says the Claims Council and World Jewish Organization, a nonprofit focused on the return of property seized during the Holocaust. said Wesley Fisher, director of research at the human restitution agency. In 1988, 44 countries, including the United States, agreed. Principles of the Washington Conferencedeclared that countries must allocate resources to identify and publish artwork confiscated by the Nazis. Fisher said the conference did not specifically mention the forced sale of artwork, but this aspect was included in the conference. 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, the United States and 46 other countries. Still, Fischer said the question of how the Nazis would define looted works of art often remains unclear.
The term looting “doesn’t cover the various ways the Nazis and their allies obtained the items,” Fisher said. “Everything from seized to removed from the walls of people deported to concentration camps and elsewhere, some forcibly sold or sold under duress,” he said. He said. In addition to works confiscated or stolen by the Nazis and their collaborators, some victims of Nazi persecution sold their works at low prices to escape Europe, while others successfully entered neutral countries. The person who did this sold the work due to financial difficulties.
“The whole definition issue here is very unusual in that the New York regulations don’t really define this,” Fisher said, adding that the new law should explain how museums should interpret the law. , he added, not making it clear whether you would face penalties for ignoring it. “Very confusing and unstandardized.”
Kaplan says there are no penalties for ignoring the law. “We left it up to the museum to decide what to post, what to post, how to post,” she said. .”
Who regulates the law?
The New York State Department of Education (NYSED) is responsible for administering the bill, said New York State Rep. Chuck LaVine. patronage law. “It really shouldn’t be that hard. Museums know which works of art have been subject to tyranny,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big challenge.”
However, NYSED said it does not have the ability to enforce relevant regulations and laws. “The law itself does not consider or require the ministry to issue regulations, and it is unclear why this is necessary,” the ministry said in a statement. “Only museums themselves have access to inventories of such collections and relevant documents identifying their provenance, and will study the works of art themselves and post information when they appear.”
So while the responsibility for following the bill rests with New York’s museums, it doesn’t appear to have brought any major changes to New York City’s institutions as a whole.
Metropolitan Museum of Art website identify Looted by the Nazis, 53 works in its collection have been restored before they were later loaned or put back on the market. 20 of them are unpublished. However, no new identification placards have been placed next to the remaining works on display.
Claude Monet’s Parc Monceau and Georges Black The Studio (vase in front of the window), for example, both are listed in the collection of Nazi looting works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Online Provenance Explanation. “We strictly follow this law and are reviewing its compliance elements,” the museum said in a statement, adding that it has long been transparent about the works looted by the Nazis, and that there will be no return. Regarding the work, he added that he was looking for a solution.
On the other hand, in a statement to the government, jerusalem postthe Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) said it was not aware of any museum works requiring action under the new law, but said it was carefully reviewing the bill and would comply with its provisions. did not respond to ‘s request for comment.
MoMA has 620 works listed. Nazi Era Provenance Portalis maintained by the American Museum Alliance (AAM) and contains information on the collections of 179 museums in the United States. Fischer said the portal lists works with provenance gaps and suspected changes of ownership during the Nazi era. “It’s not clear if these are Nazi loot. A lot of them probably aren’t,” he said. “But it kind of constitutes the closest thing to a list.”
The Guggenheim has 289 works on its portal, including a 1904 painting by Pablo Picasso. women ironIn January, Guggenheim was sued by the heir to the painting’s former owner, Karl Adler, who was allegedly forced to sell the work while fleeing Germany under Nazi rule. , denied the allegation that the sale of the work was not a fair trade.
The painting, now on display in a museum, contains no reference to Adler’s ownership in its physical description. Guggenheim did not respond to a request for comment on whether the new law will be implemented.
Some New York museums display physical signs detailing the history of art looted by the Nazis, but these placards were placed before state bills.
Description next to Marc Chagall’s 1911 painting father The work, located in Manhattan’s Jewish Museum, contains several references to the work’s former owner, David Cender, who was forced to abandon the painting after Poland was invaded in 1939 and his family was sent to Auschwitz. contains a sentence. According to museum signage, Sender survived but was unable to recover his work before his death in 1966, but was eventually returned to his heirs in April 2022.
“Our proceedings that preceded last year’s ruling mandated that we continue to research works in our collections that enter the Nazi era, and we would like to distribute this information to our labels, specific object records websites, dedicated Make it available on your website. origin research site‘ said Darcy Alexander, the museum’s chief curator, in a statement.
Manhattan’s Neue Gallery also incorporates the history of Nazi looting on placards. “The most famous work in the museum’s collection, Adele Bloch-Bauer 1 Gustav Klimt’s (1907) was itself a looted work and was returned to its rightful owner before entering the collection,” the museum said in a statement, while a history of the work can be found in the gallery and on its website. He added that it has always been on display, but that it has taken steps to ensure compliance with new laws.
unintended side effects
The law is well-intentioned, but “in practice, it is unlikely that it will change significantly,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in allegations of art looted by the Nazis. said. Museums have long opposed claims to return art looted by the Nazis.
In 2019, the Metropolitan Museum of Art won a lawsuit over a Picasso painting. actorthe original owner of the work, Laurel Zuckerman, great-grandmother of Paul and Alice Refman, sued for its return, and the work was under duress while her relatives fled Nazi-controlled Germany. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2018 for lack of evidence, but in 2019 a New York court ruled that Zuckerman had taken too long to file his lawsuit. was supported.
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art defended Picasso’s lawsuit. They put themselves in a comfortable position to do it,” O’Donnell said. , “It’s hard to imagine how a museum would abide by this law,” he said.
Lawrence Kay, a New York-based attorney representing plaintiffs attempting to recover the artwork, said the claims were dismissed on technical grounds regarding the statute of limitations and unreasonable delays in filing suit. is often “Often these works are so valuable that museums often don’t want to part with them.”
And labeling every piece looted by the Nazis would only endanger museum collections even more, Kay said. become more viable.”
According to O’Donnell, the law encourages museums to either refrain from displaying related works or to spend less resources on provenance for fear of receiving more restitution claims, thereby allowing unintended negative consequences. O’Donnell said it could have serious consequences. “Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”
However, O’Donnell said a slightly revised bill that would focus on disclosing information about provenance and ownership transfer rather than blatantly labeling works as Nazi loot would be beneficial. “It’s not that hard to write a little differently,” he said. “And it will be much more transparent than it is now.”