Why Should We Care That a Great Piece of Art Was Plundered by Nazis?

Aug. 27 2015

Nick Cohen reviews two films about five paintings by Gustav Klimt (including the famed Woman in Gold) that were stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family, held by the Austrian government for decades after the war, and returned to Maria Altmann, the daughter of the original owners, after a protracted legal battle—and he asks an important question:

[N]either film asks a question that goes to the root of our experience of art: why should we care? The fate of the Klimts makes my point. After her family’s paintings were restored, Maria Altmann sold Woman in Gold for $135 million to Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in New York. It is on public display, as it was in Vienna, and no harm has been done. But anonymous private buyers bought the three Klimt landscapes and the [other] portrait. . . .

A painting hidden from public view is like a banned book: it might as well not exist. Justice for the rightful owners of a great work is all very well, but the rest of us might worry more about keeping it on public display. . . . The answer lies in our yearning for authenticity. . . . [M]ost people want to know that murderers did not steal the picture in front of them. The Nazis understood this. As with the gas chambers, they knew they could not admit to their crimes. . . .

When I visited the Belvedere in the 1990s, all five Klimts were on public view, compared with just two today. Their display was not the blessing it seemed because the gallery could not tell the truth — be authentic, if you like —without changing the way most visitors would have looked at them. Honesty would have required them to say: “This picture was taken at gunpoint. We have never compensated its rightful owners or secured their consent to hang it here.” . . .

If I—and I hope you—had read that, we would not have seen a work of luscious beauty in front of us but a crime scene, and demanded that the courts intervene.

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Read more at Standpoint

More about: Art, Arts & Culture, Austria, Holocaust, Holocaust restitution

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology