Holocaust Art and the Statute of Limitations

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23 Feb 2009 11:22 am
Since Sir Norman Rosenthal, a British curator and son of German Jews, called for a statute of limitations on Holocaust art claims — insisting “history is history and that you can’t turn the clock back, or make things good again through art” — there’s been an ongoing (and often high-decibel) conversation in the art world about issue. The Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones, wrote last month that “nothing in today’s art world is more absurd and insidiously destructive” then returning stolen art to the heirs of Holocaust victims. “At best,” he explained, “restitution so long after the crime is meaningless.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees. Responding to Rosenthal’s article and addressing the larger debate, Robin Cembalest clearly explains the stakes:

In ostensibly placing the integrity of public collections above all other considerations, these critics are ignoring a host of inconvenient truths about art stolen during the Holocaust. Beyond the fact that the looting of cultural assets was part of the larger Nazi policy of exterminating an entire people, and beyond the issue of whether it is just to pretend that museums legitimately represent the public good when they illegitimately claim to be the owners of the objects they exhibit, the fact remains that restitution research is very much a work in process.


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