"If German museums that lost numerous paintings during WW.II were to sue the present day owners American and Swiss museums would be forced to close complete departments"
Reports in the British newspaper The Guardian of damage to the palace of Knossos drew a response yesterday from Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos that measures planned to improve security on the site would soon be completed. "We are aware of the British Archaeological Society's sensitivity (to the issue) but we ourselves, as well as our experts, are just as, if not more sensitive," he said. According to the Guardian, the home of the legendary Minotaur was in danger of collapsing. Mr. Venizelos said the main problem was the large number of visitors to the site. Work to create special walkways for visitors was almost completed, he added. "While Knossos is an international cultural heritage monument, it is on Greek territory. Responsibility for the site rests with Greece," Mr. Venizelos stressed.
MANHATTAN'S chief public prosecutor has rocked the art world by seizing two world-class paintings owned by the Austrian government but claimed by the heirs of Jewish Holocaust victims. Museums suggested that the move was unprecedented and could destroy the system of trust underlying the exchange of art works for major international exhibitions. Both paintings are by Egon Schiele, the Austrian expressionist, and were in New York on loan from the government-owned Leopold Museum in Vienna. Dead City is a stylised night-time cityscape, while Portrait of Wally is a portrait of the artist's mistress in a melancholic mood. They had hung as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. It was while tens of thousands filed through the galleries that two New York Jewish families made their claim on the paintings. Both pictures are said to have been seized from Austrian Jewish owners shortly before the Second World War, and have now joined the increasing number of art works in disputed ownership following the wartime years of looting and persecution. The exhibition over, the paintings were being packed for shipping back to Austria. Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, secured a subpoena to have them seized as potential evidence. He said: "We have opened an investigation and are taking steps to keep the paintings in Manhattan." Privately, museum officials admitted to being horrified by the seizure, fearing that it would sent a signal around the world that New York was no longer a safe destination for loans. A spokesman said: "We will be meeting the DA's staff to discuss the matter. The museum has no reason to believe it is the target of any investigation, and we remain hopeful that this very complex situation can be resolved in a constructive matter for all parties." Klaus Schroder, managing director of the Leopold Museum, said: "There is no comparable instance in history. This could rise up to a very big scandal." Both paintings had been acquired by Dr Rudolph Leopold, a 72-year-old Viennese collector. He donated 5,400 art works, including 250 by Schiele, to the Leopold Foundation, financed and run by the Austrian government, in 1994. He bought Wally in 1954 in a deal involving a trade with the Austrian National Gallery; it is known that the painting had been confiscated from Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art dealer who fled to London in 1938. He had bought Dead City from a dealer in 1964; it had once been owned by a Jewish comedian who died in the Dachau death camp. Rita Reif, a member of the family which claims Dead City, said the seizure move was "fabulous". She said: "This will start a process that will be important not just to us but to others who were victims or heirs of victims of property losses during the Holocaust." Henry Bondi, a member of the family claiming Wally, said: "You know what Lenin said: justice, good; control is better."
WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday defended a decision to seize two Viennese Expressionist paintings claimed by victims of the Nazi regime and said the current owners were willing to discuss the dispute amicably. U.S. authorities confiscated the paintings by early 20th century painter Egon Schiele in New York on Wednesday as they were about to leave the country. They had been in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The Manhattan District Attorney launched an investigation on Thursday into whether the paintings were stolen and to determine the rightful owners. ``We have opened an investigation to determine whether the paintings were stolen and have taken steps to keep the paintings in New York,'' Morgenthau said. His office has issued subpoenas and a grand jury will investigate the matter, which could take up to a year. ``Bildnis Wally'' and ``Tote Stadt'' belong to the Leopold Foundation, named after Viennese art collector Rudolf Leopold who sold the paintings to the Austrian state in 1994. The U.S. State Department said in a statement: ``The United States strongly supports the idea that we have to continue to address the remaining questions about World War Two era assets, including looted art, that are still unaccounted for, and that looted art works should be returned to their respective owners. ``We have been in the forefront of recent efforts to conduct research, investigate claims and develop creative means for making restitution where justified,'' it added. Officials were able to seize the paintings after the museum failed to register them with the United States Information Agency. Museum spokeswoman Elizabeth Addison said it was not ``normal or standard practice'' to register with the USIA for federal protection because ``loaned works of art were protected by other federal and state statues. ``Unless we thought the art work was stolen, and there was no suspicion that it was, it was not necessary to take the additional step of registering with the USIA,'' she added. The paintings remain at the museum. ``We have arranged a meeting with the District Attorney's staff for a full discussion of the issue on Monday,'' Addison said. One of the two claimants and the Holocaust Art Restitution Project of Washington's National Jewish Museum contacted the State Department about the paintings this week, department spokesman James Rubin told his daily briefing. ``We are encouraged that the Austrians in the (Leopold) foundation have indicated their willingness to work with the claimants to resolve the issue of ownership amicably ... That's what we're encouraging and hopefully that's what will happen,'' he added. But Austrian Culture Minister Elisabeth Gehrer said: ``This deals a heavy blow to the international exchange of art ... and shakes the foundation of trust that one should also be given back pictures one has lent out.'' Leopold said there was no legal basis for the confiscation of the pictures. ``I have never bought nor exchanged pictures where it could be proved that they were taken from Jewish owners,'' he told Vienna daily newspaper Kurier. The paintings were to be exhibited in Barcelona next month. They have been on loan to the Museum of Modern Art since Oct. 12. It was unclear why the heirs of victims of property losses during the Holocaust did not file federal or civil lawsuits to reclaim the paintings, which is the usual procedure to reclaim stolen Nazi art.
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited.
VIENNA, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Austria on Thursday protested over the
confiscation in New York of two paintings by early 20th century
Viennese expressionist painter Egon Schiele. The paintings, on
display at the Museum of Modern Art, were seized by U.S. authorities
on Wednesday after they were claimed by victims of Adolf Hitler's
Nazi regime. ``This deals a heavy blow to the international exchange
of art...and shakes the foundation of trust that one should also be
given back pictures one has lent out,'' culture minister Elisabeth
Gehrer told Austrian state radio. ``Bildnis Wally'' and ``Tote
Stadt'' belong to the Leopold Foundation named after the Viennese art
collector Rudolf Leopold who sold his Schiele works to the Austrian
state in 1994. Leopold said there was no legal basis for the
confiscation of the pictures. ``I have never bought nor exchanged
pictures where it could be proved that they were taken from Jewish
owners,'' he told the daily newspaper Kurier. The U.S. Embassy in
Vienna said it was actively engaged in dialogue with the involved
parties. ``We are concerned about this serious issue and we are
talking with Department of State officials in Washington, the
government of Austria and the Leopold Foundation,'' it said in a
statement. The two paintings were due to be exhibited in Barcelona
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited.
I had one client who used prison labor. One of the prisoner/custodians broke
into a case and stole a gun that was on display.
Another uses prisoners for work on the grounds and has had no problems. I had a fit about it. They actually have armed prison guards with shotguns watching over about ten prisoners about 50 yards from visitors to this historic site. This saves the museum money so it is acceptable even though it is scary as can be, and doesn't project the image the museum should want. On the other hand, security devices and security signage are considered unfriendly and are not permitted. It's all a matter of priorities, I guess.
In one recent project I asked the museum director for a set of burglar alarm system blueprints. I was told they would have to order them from Prison Industries. After picking myself up off the floor, I learned that Prison Industries has the contract for this city's blueprinting. They had converted the blueprints for all city buildings (including the museum alarm system and police department buildings) to CAD. Copies of the prints could be obtained by calling the contractor, and prisoners would make the prints. A city rep said, "How would these guys get the blueprints out of the building to abuse them?" Every hear of diskettes or modems.
Steve Keller and Associates, Inc.
Museum Security Consultants
22 Foxfords Chase Ormond Beach, Florida 32174 USA
"If German museums that lost numerous paintings during WW.II were to sue the present day owners American and Swiss museums would be forced to close complete departments"
The heading of one article is: the heist of the Schiele paintings.
I thaught it to be justified to present the Austrian point of view to our subscribers as well as the reports taken from American and English newspapers.
I do hope many of you will be able to read the articles in German.
The Austrian government cried foul yesterday, but the Manhattan
district attorney has opened a dramatic new front in the effort to
recover art looted from Jews by the Nazis by halting the return to
Austria of two paintings that the Museum of Modern Art had borrowed
for an exhibition. The museum, turning aside pleas from relatives of
the art owners who were allegedly victimized by the Nazis, was about
to return the collection of works by the Austrian expressionist Egon
Schiele when Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau issued
a grand jury subpoena late Wednesday for two of the Schiele
paintings. Morgenthau's action, which is without precedent in its
treatment of a foreign collection that enters the United States for
exhibition, threw the museum world into turmoil yesterday, with some
art specialists expressing fears it could doom many regular
international art exchanges. Klaus A. Schroeder, the director of the
Austrian government-controlled Leopold Foundation, which owns the
Schiele collection, last night decried the grand jury action, calling
it ''insulting'' and ''illegal'' and accusing the Jewish claimants of
having a ''warlike mentality'' and resorting to ''coercive and
underhanded methods.'' But MOMA had neglected to obtain the formal
federal protection for the Austrian collection that would have
prevented any level of government from foiling return of the
paintings. And sources said yesterday that even if Morgenthau's
subpoena were to be thrown out by a New York state judge, the US
Customs Service is prepared to seize the paintings on the strength
of strong circumstantial evidence that Nazis took them from two
Austrian Jewish families nearly 60 years ago. ''That this should
reach the point of getting the DA's office so dramatically involved
is kind of sad,'' Henry S. Bondi, a nephew of one of the Nazis'
alleged victims, said in an interview yesterday. ''Why didn't MOMA
check the past ownership of these items before they brought them
here? Why didn't the Austrians clear up this matter 30 or 40 years
ago, when they rebuffed my aunt on this issue?'' Morgenthau's action
followed articles in The New York Times by reporter Judith H.
Dobrzynski, which initially raised questions about the methods
employed by the Austrian collector Rudolph Leopold to assemble a
collection of 250 works by Schiele. On Jan. 1, a second report
provided more evidence that the Nazis had seized two of the works,
and noted that the families had urged MOMA to hold the artworks until
the dispute could be resolved. But MOMA, citing its contractual
obligation and legal protections afforded such traveling exhibitions,
said it had no choice but to return the collection to the Leopold
Foundation, to which Leopold had sold much of his collection. With
the return of the collection set to begin yesterday, Morgenthau moved
to block the shipment of the two contested artworks after learning
that MOMA had never sought federal protection for the exhibition.
MOMA officials, according to the subpoena, are scheduled to appear at
the district attorney's office next Monday. The two paintings remain
in MOMA's custody. At the least, Morgenthau's entry into the dispute
has sidetracked an effort by the World Jewish Congress, through its
newly formed Commission for Art Recovery, to mediate a solution
through an international panel that would have adjudicated the claims
by the relatives of Lea Bondi Jaray and Fritz Gruenbaum. Constance
Lowenthal, a longtime specialist in stolen artworks who is the
director of the WJC commission, said yesterday that the two families
had seemed uninterested in such a panel. And Schroeder's personal
attack yesterday on the claimants is not likely to smooth the way for
a mediated solution. ''When people seek restitution for art 50 to 60
years later,'' Lowenthal said, ''they have to expect that their claim
will be against good faith purchasers. So you have two different
kinds of victims, and it becomes very difficult to find an equitable
solution.'' Leopold, a wealthy ophthalmologist who is now in his 70s,
assembled his collection after the war. The two paintings at issue
are ''Portrait of Wally,'' a painting of Schiele's mistress that art
dealer Bondi Jaray lost when she fled Vienna in 1938; and a
landscape, ''Dead City,'' that was allegedly taken from Gruenbaum, a
comedian who died at Dachau, the concentration camp, in 1940. The
dispute also underscores a separate division within the growing
constellation of art investigators, scholars, and lawyers who have
recently intensified an international effort to recover many of the
thousands of artworks plundered by the Nazis, most of them from
Jews, and never recovered. Art specialists believe that perhaps
hundreds of those artworks found their way into American collections
and museums during and after World War II. The National Jewish Museum
in Washington, with its own Holocaust Art Restitution Project, also
known as HARP, has been advising the claimants in this case with help
from Willi Korte, arguably the most renowned art investigator in the
United States. Marc Masurovsky, the director of HARP, yesterday
applauded Morgenthau's intercession, saying that MOMA should have
held onto the artworks and been more sympathetic to the claims.
Lowenthal, on the other hand, said MOMA had an obligation to return
the paintings to Austria. As a matter of course, many countries,
including the United States, offer legal protections against seizure
to encourage the international exchange of artworks for exhibitions.
But a MOMA spokeswoman said the museum seldom seeks the federal
protection, relying instead on a similar New York state law that
some legal specialists say may not protect the art from either
Morgenthau's inquiry or a potential Customs seizure. Almost
certainly, art specialists said, Morgenthau's intervention will
prompt American museums and foreign lenders to demand federal
protection before the museums agree to exhibit works from abroad.
Caught in the middle in this dispute is Ronald S. Lauder, a former
US ambassador to Austria and major art collector. Lauder is both the
chairman of MOMA and chairman of the restitution commission that
Lowenthal is directing. Ori Z. Soltes, the director of the National
Jewish Museum, said that as a museum director he too was troubled by
the step Morgenthau has taken. Potentially, he said, it could have
serious consequences if it deters art institutions that trust one
another from lending their collections for exhibitions elsewhere.
''But when MOMA was so marvelously irresponsible'' with its decision
to repatriate the artworks without doing more to honor the claims,
Soltes said, Morgenthau stepped in and did the right thing,
''effectively taking MOMA off the hook.'' ''If museums are bastions
of culture and civilization and not operating in some moral
backwater, they cannot say they have no responsibility to deal with
these claims,'' Soltes said. ''More than a half century after the end
of the war, Morgenthau's action is an official acknowledgement that
we have unfinished business. You cannot put a statute of limitations
on such important moral issues.''
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 01/09/98.
c Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.
Die "Süddeutsche Zeitung" meint in ihrem Kommentar "Schielen auf Schiele", daß die Beschlagnahme die Kunstwelt alarmieren müsse. Das Vertrauen in die europäischen-amerikanischen Kulturabmachungen sei "erst einmal dahin". Wenn allerdings erst die deutschen Landes- und Stadtmuseen, die im Dritten Reich Hunderte von Meisterwerken der frühen Moderne verloren haben, gegen die neuen Besitzer klagen, müßten amerikanische und schweizerische Museen ganze Abteilungen in ihren Sammlungen schließen. Daß die Bilder "im angesehensten Kunsttempel der 'freien Welt' als Pfand einbehalten wurden, habe auf jeden Fall "schon fast etwas Atavistisches".
Copyright "Die Presse", Wien
"The Fritz Grunbaum heirs never started any legal action to recover the paintings. Therefore the 'wildwest action' in New York is very hard to understand"
Museums will become very restrictive in lending art abroad
"The USA has forced the art world into a banana republic"
Fritz Grünbaum war einer der liebenswertesten Vertreter der österreichischen Kabarett-Kunst. Seine Ermordung durch die Nationalsozialisten ist daher vielen Wienern unter den anderen NS-Verbrechen besonders schmerzhaft in Erinnerung. Umso selbstverständlicher wäre es gewesen, daß jeder konkrete Eigentums- und Schadenersatzanspruch seiner Erben von Österreichs Behörden korrekt abgehandelt worden wäre. Seine Erben haben jedoch nie einen solchen Anspruch geltend gemacht. Umso unverständlicher ist die Wildwestaktion, mit der jetzt in New York ein Bild, das wahrscheinlich Grünbaum gehört hat, zusammen mit einem zweiten Werk, das von einer anderen bekannten Familie beansprucht wird, einfach beschlagnahmt worden ist. Damit ist nicht nur für die weiteren Etappen der großen Schiele-Schau ein Schaden eingetreten. Damit ist auch ein überaus faires Offert des Leopold-Museums in den Wind geschlagen worden, in dem eine unabhängige Streitschlichtung vorgeschlagen worden war. Damit haben die USA wieder einmal gezeigt, mit welcher Brutalität sie glauben, der Welt ihre eigenen Rechtsauffassungen aufzwingen zu können - obwohl diese europäisches Niveau in keiner Weise erreichen, obwohl Amerika nicht einmal qualifiziert wäre, der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention beizutreten. Wie auch immer der Streit ausgeht, ein Opfer hat er jetzt schon gefordert: Der internationale Ausstellungstourismus, der der Welt in den letzten Jahren viele tolle Expositionen beschert hat, ist tot. Welcher österreichische Minister, der sein Amt liebt, wird noch wagen, eine Versendung österreichischer Kulturgüter ins Ausland zu genehmigen? Welches Museum der Welt wird noch bereit sein, seine Güter der Jurisdiktion eines anderen Landes auszusetzen? Wer wird vor allem Richtung Amerika noch das Risiko eingehen, den dortigen Partnern auf Treu und Glauben zu vertrauen? Man wird damit leben können: Kunstliebhaber werden halt bestimmte Dinge nur noch in Wien zu sehen bekommen. Und die USA werden damit leben müssen, daß sie für die Kulturwelt ein Stück in Richtung Bananenrepublik abgesunken sind.
VON BENEDIKT KOMMENDA
Wie bei Rechtsstreitigkeiten mit Auslandsbezug üblich, ist auch bei der Auseinandersetzung um die beiden in New York beschlagnahmten Schiele-Bilder die Lage einigermaßen verworren. Mit dem amerikanischen und dem kontinentaleuropäischen Rechtskreis prallen zwei Normensysteme aufeinander, die unterschiedlicher kaum sein könnten. Dennoch dürften juristische Überlegungen bei aller Vorsicht doch eher gegen die Legitimität der vorläufigen Konfiszierung sprechen. Im anglo-amerikanischen Recht gibt es just jenen gutgläubigen Eigentumserwerb nicht, auf den sich Rudolf Leopold nach österreichischen Recht jedenfalls berufen kann: Das Allgemeine Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch schützt den "redlichen Besitzer" von Gegenständen, der diese "von einem zu diesem Verkehr befugten Gewerbsmanne" erworben hat. Wer also bei einem Händler im guten Glauben auf dessen Berechtigung ein Gemälde kauft, wird selbst dann Eigentümer, wenn sich nachträglich herausstellt, das Bild war gestohlen worden. Dieser Grundsatz, der für sichere Verhältnisse im Geschäftsverkehr sorgen soll, ist in dieser Form dem amerikanischen Recht fremd - und nach Expertenauskunft auch dem des Bundesstaates New York. Freilich müßten die dortigen Behörden nach dem Internationalen Privatrecht - es legt fest, welche Rechtsordnung bei grenzüberschreitenden Streitigkeiten anzuwenden ist - grundsätzlich österreichisches Recht zur Beurteilung der Eigentumsverhältnisse an dem Bild heranziehen.