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Museum Tries New Approach to Nazi-Looted Art

German museum hangs painting backwards to raise money to rightfully buy it

Stephanie Butnick
October 31, 2014
Germanty's Wiesbaden Museum. (Wikimedia)
Germanty's Wiesbaden Museum. (Wikimedia)

Visitors to Germany’s Wiesbaden Museum might be confused by what looks like a subversive new performance art installation. But the painting hung backwards isn’t a Banksy pop-up or anything like that—it’s German painter Hans von Marées’ 19th century work, “Die Labung,” and the museum hung it backwards in a bid to raise money to buy it from its rightful Jewish owners. JTA reports that the museum, which was known as a “repository for art robbed from Jewish owners during the Third Reich,” is trying to locate the Jewish heirs of Nazi-looted art displayed in their museum, and either return the art or, more likely, buy it back from them.

According to JTA the museum needs to raise $118,000 by Nov. 5 to buy the painting from the Gerta Silberberg Discretionary Trust in Israel, the rightful heir to the entire art collection of Max Silberberg of Breslau, of which the von Marées is just one item. Or they could always, you know, just give it back.

It’s an interesting approach—and there’s certainly something to be said for the museum so publicly acknowledging the Nazi-looted items in its collection—though it seems like too little, too late. Plus, crowdsourcing the funding to buy the painting back seems like a tidy way to subvert the very real fact that the museum, which presumably charges admission, knowingly profited off of stolen artwork for nearly half a century now. It’s also, regrettably, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nazi-looted art still in Germany.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.