Haunting MoMA: The Forgotten Story of ‘Degenerate’ Dealer Alfred Flechtheim

Does the museum owe a debt to the Nazis’ most hated gallerist?

Mr. Dowd contended that MoMA hasn’t been forthcoming with requested provenance information and has actively or passively erased Flechtheim. He noted that Flechtheim doesn’t even have an English language Wikipedia page.

“Flechtheim has essentially been written out of MoMA’s history,” he said. Last year, the museum mounted an exhibition, “German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse,” which made no mention of the man (his name did not appear in the catalog either). Mr. Dowd said that after he complained, “they updated the website to acknowledge his pre-eminent role.”

“Why has Flechtheim’s image and history been obliterated?” Mr. Dowd asked. “Why have America’s art historians and historians failed to honor Flechtheim’s role in 20th-century art? The artists of his time celebrated him, yet U.S. art historians have not even granted him a footnote in history. Is there not one honest art historian working in an American museum today? The damage Hitler caused in obliterating Jewish culture and contributions must be fought not by lawyers, but by art lovers and historians of good conscience who come forward and say enough is enough. Pretending that Alfred Flechtheim did not exist is unacceptable.”

MoMA declined to answer questions about Flechtheim, except to say that his 1930 donation of the Belling sculpture was technically not the first piece of the permanent collection, since the establishing donations were eight prints and a drawing that MoMA acquired in 1929. A spokeswoman referred The Observer to a comment MoMA director Glenn Lowry sent to ArtNews in response to its December story on the Grosz case: “From the time the Grosz heirs initially contacted MoMA in 2003 to the time they sued, MoMA engaged in nearly six years of detailed, good-faith research, spending vast amounts of its time and resources studying archives across the United States and Europe. MoMA shared the results of this research openly with the Grosz family’s representatives. In the end, MoMA’s research demonstrated that the claims were without merit.”

Visitors to MoMA today cannot see the Klees or the Grosz with the Flechtheim provenance; they are not currently on view. But thousands of museum-goers stroll past Picasso’s Cubist-style, earth-toned Woman With Pears, one of the paintings that came to MoMA by way of Flechtheim. Picasso painted his companion, Fernande Olivier, on the coast of Spain in the summer of 1909, when Hitler was just 20, and the horrors of the Holocaust were still decades off. The name of the art dealer who once handled the painting is nowhere to be seen.

editorial@observer.com

Comments

  1. Lynn H. Nicholas says:

    Shame on the Observer for presenting the self serving and very inaccurate presentation of the Grosz-Flechtheim story provided them by the Grosz lawyer (Dowd) and expert witness (Petropoulos)without any apparent attempt to verify those facts with other experts in the field. If Ms. Burleigh had read the opinions of the experts for MoMA, including mine, and consulted others in the art world both here and in Germany, she would have come to very different conclusions.

    1. Ray Dowd says:

      Lynn, since MoMA never gave us access to documentation of the works in MoMA’s collection that were in Flechtheim’s 1933 inventory and since you never did any research on those works, exactly what in your reports do you think is different from what Ms. Burleigh has presented? My sole quibble with the article is that it does not come out and clearly say that the works were stolen in 1933 from Flechtheim and that New York law never permits a possessor to have title to artworks where there is a thief in the chain of title. In my humble estimation, Burleigh should have called police and prosecutors asking why arrests are not taking place at MoMA.

  2. Godsotherson says:

    The only reason Flechtheim is missing from Wikipedia is because no one took the time to create a post. You can and should create one as your article shows your passion for showing the world his history.

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