George Grosz–MoMA Thievery

George Grosz, The Poet Max Hermann-Neisse

Just as I’m exploring the work of George Grosz this article appears in the New York Times. Once every blue moon or so their Arts and Entertainment section actually covers the work of a painter. In this case it’s covering the theft of an artist’s work.

MoMA rather than recognizing the justice of the claim that it has in its possession three paintings that belong to Grosz’s heir, his son Martin, is arguing that the statute of limitations has run out. In other words, you’re allowed to keep what you’ve stolen if the proper owner doesn’t file for return of the property in time..

The reporter doesn’t bother to mention that Grosz had hundreds of his works destroyed by the Nazis. Instead it’s noted that “Jewish businesses were boycotted, and within months Flechtheim [Grosz’s dealer] also left Germany,” dying penniless in London four years later. This gives the misleading impression that the sale of Grosz’s work suffered from a business boycott. In fact Grosz’s work was stolen or destroyed wherever it could be located. Grosz was forced to flee the country because his life was in danger due to his courageous and open opposition to the Nazi regime. An officer had shot at him in a restaurant, missing him but killing a waiter. His studio was broken into and an iron pipe placed with the message: “This is what you’ll get, you old Jewish pig, if you continue what you’re doing.”

Grosz saw one of the stolen pieces himself hanging at MoMA writing, “Modern Museum exhibits a painting stolen from me (I am powerless against that) they bought it from someone, who stole it.”

It could hardly be more clear that the works were stolen and that Grosz, as he himself states, was powerless to reclaim his work, just as he was powerless to prevent the massive destruction of his work in Nazi Germany.

It should also be clear that the disgraceful MoMA was well aware that they were buying paintings looted by the Nazis from a living artist. Grosz was himself living in Long Island. If they’d wanted a George Grosz painting they might have thought to buy one from the artist himself. Of course this would have violated their ideological mandate by indicating that work with figurative and social content was viable and being practiced concurrent with the American Abstraction that was being touted as the only painting of any importance. Only Grosz painting BEFORE American Abstract painting was elevated to superior status is considered worthwhile art. Anything after that arbitrary demarcation was of little or no aesthetic importance. That’s, of course, the consensus view by the kind of lapdog art historians and critics that currently prevail in todays art world. A consensus shaped not by any serious thinking or looking, just as all cult-thinking is shaped, particularly cults where astronomical sums of money are at stake..

MoMA further disgraces itself–to the extent that even seems possible–by having stolen the work in the first place and then attempting to defraud Grosz’s son on a legal technicality.

Der Spiegel reports in an article from 3.26.09 that the Nazis broke into Grosz’s studio the day after they came into power. Had he not emigrated to America he would no doubt have perished in a concentration camp. “The Nazis confiscated 285 of Grosz’s works in museums, some of which they sold. Most were burned. About 70 paintings vanished without a trace.”

They go on to report, “When Grosz learned that the Nazis had burned a large share of his life’s work, his wife Eva wrote after the way, ‘there was a complete collapse,’ and he began to suffer from ‘anxiety, particularly nightmares’ and ‘to drink without moderation.’ ”

Grosz created about 450 paintings and more than 15,000 works on paper. The heirs are trying to get back the stolen works not to sell them on the market but to establish a George Grosz museum where his work can reclaim the respect it has long deserved.

MoMA is hardly alone in their disregard for Grosz’s work. Other museums are refusing to recognize the claims of Martin Grosz as well and the likelihood of there ever being a George Grosz appear slim.

The outrageous assumption, as stated by the director of the Kunsthalle Museum,  seems to be that if a dealer dies the works of the artist no longer belong to that artist. The paintings belong to the dealer’s heirs or anyone who claims to have been given them by the dealer, in this case by the thieving Charlotte Weidler. They can then dispose of them in a rigged auction (which is what happened with Grosz’s Max Hermann-Neisse portrait), and the money is pocketed by all those in on the transaction and transactions on into the future. Grosz never saw dime one for any of the paintings looted from him.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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3 Responses to George Grosz–MoMA Thievery

  1. Absolutely infuriating! Never mind making yourself happy by helping someone so deserving: why not just steal from them and put their money and soul in your wallet?

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Milton Resnick used to say that going into the gallery/museum world was the equivalent of selling ones soul to the devil. Resnick knew of what he spoke.

  3. wewordsmiths says:

    Aside from these issues – What a fine and wonderful portrait. One *instantly* accepts all distortions of plane & color since the focus is clearly on the man.

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