A New Exhibit Exchanges the Story of Art Plundered by the Nazis for Banalities

Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art, on display at the Jewish Museum in New York City, includes masterpieces by the likes of Cézanne, Picasso, and Pissarro stolen from European Jews by the Third Reich and returned after the war. Yet even though the curators succeed in telling the story of some these works, they seem to lose the thread quickly thereafter, as Edward Rothstein writes:

Aside from a panel’s brief allusion to the Nazis’ “vast and systemic pillaging” and its continued “repercussions,” we get too little sense of the staggering scale of the theft and no sense of continuing repercussions. Nor do we learn the fate of works that were refused repatriation or were kept secret—like some 1,300 Nazi-era acquisitions discovered in 2010, in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi art dealer. Also missing are any hints of the epic quests by heirs for restitution or stories of the continuing struggles faced by those still trying to reclaim family treasures.

Even more baffling is how quickly the show’s theme is abandoned. Perhaps half of the rest of the show is devoted to commissioned works by Maria Eichhorn, Hadar Gad, Dor Guez, and Lisa Oppenheim. And as with the looted art, these too receive a cursorily positive gloss. “Rather than focus on the lasting void left by the war,” the exhibition notes, they are “fueled by a sense of hope and discovery.” In the catalog, Claudia Gould, the museum’s director, writes that in a year of grappling with the “pandemic and rising threats to democracy,” the notion of art expressing “both trauma and survival” seems “crucial.”

Is that the banal point? Can the “pandemic” and supposed “rising threats to democracy” really be inspiration for exploring looted Nazi art and giving it all a redemptive spin? All to affirm art’s transcendence over suffering?

This loose-limbed carelessness treats history as if it were a burden. The most puzzling example is the exhibition’s gallery devoted to looted Jewish books and Judaica. . . . Throughout, the overall impression is of a calculated avoidance of both historical specificity and Jewish religious life—which is precisely what happens in the institution’s permanent exhibition, which displaces Jewish history and practice with ahistorical juxtapositions of artworks. This is the aesthetic that leaves “lost stories of looted art” in limbo.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Art, Holocaust, Holocaust restitution, New York Jewish Museum

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security