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.