Apparently heeding widespread criticism, Duesseldorf has relented and will mount an exhibition on Max Stern, the Jewish art dealer from that German city who was forced by the Nazis to sell off hundreds of works.
The city issued a statement on Dec. 20 that the exhibition Max Stern: From Montreal to Duesseldorf, originally scheduled to open at the city-owned Stadtmuseum in February, will now be go ahead at a later, unspecified date in a “supplemented and revised form.”
The exhibition’s partners, chiefly the Max Stern Art Restitution Project based at Concordia University, were stunned when Mayor Thomas Geisel abruptly announced in November that the exhibition was cancelled, after three years in the planning.
The reason given was that restitution claims are pending on some paintings owned by Stern now in museums and elsewhere in Germany, at least, one of which is being legally contested, and questions have been raised about the provenance of others. The exhibition, as conceived, he felt, could not adequately address such complex issues.
After its initial run, the exhibition was to travel to the Haifa Museum of Art in September and then to Montreal’s McCord Museum in 2019.
The exhibition was intended to highlight the life and legacy of Stern, not advance current restitution efforts, Stern project director Clarence Epstein said.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder called the decision to scrap the exhibition “deeply disturbing,” an affront to victims of the Holocaust and their heirs trying to reclaim property, as well as a lost opportunity for educating the public about Nazi cultural spoliation.
Even the German government objected to the decision.
The city said a new co-curator and scientific advisory board for the revamped exhibition are expected to be named in mid-January. The original exhibition was being curated by the Stadtmuseum’s director, Susanne Anna.
Geisel told The New York Times that the target date for the opening is now October.
An international conference, under the city’s auspices, in honour of Stern will go ahead in the fall as planned. According to the latest announcement, the conference will honour Stern, while providing a forum for the scholarly exploration of “the multitude of outstanding issues in connection with the Galerie Max Stern.” It is also hoped ways of teaching and documenting the topic of restitution will be developed.
Stern owned an art gallery in Duesseldorf, which was founded by his father in 1913, before he fled the country in 1938, after liquidating the last 200 of his paintings at a Nazi-sanctioned auction in Cologne. To Canadians, he is remembered as the owner of the Dominion Gallery in Montreal for more than 40 years and a pioneer in the art trade.
Geisel is quoted by the Times on Dec. 21 as saying, “It was never my intention to sweep the life and career of Max Stern under the carpet…[His] life and legacy is an appropriate vehicle for a closer examination of how international principles on the restitution of Nazi-looted art are applied in Germany.”