Law obliges museums to identify works of art stolen by Nazis

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To address the continued erasure of Jewish history and the legacy of anti-Semitism, Governor Kathy Hochul signed three laws earlier this month (after being passed by the New York Legislature ). These include a list of banks that are waiving reparations payments, updates on how the Holocaust is taught in schools (first update since 1994) and the requirement that all museums show prominently what art came from Nazi plunder. Their definition of pillage includes a forced sale, seizure, or anything involuntary.

Hyperallergic noted that works of art looted by the Nazis have been returned rarely and irregularly in recent years. The (still wrong) reasoning for the Nazi theft varied. But genocide includes cultural erasure, alongside death, and art theft was, ultimately, a form of that erasure. Like non-visual works, much of the artwork was stolen to be resold, burned or exhibited as propaganda art (as opposed to ‘real’ German culture). The 1937 Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst” (degenerate art exhibition) was closed after a few weeks because it was very popular, with over a million visitors in the first six weeks. Looted works of art that were not sold were then burned.

So what does this new law mean? Well, not only is this law important in terms of greater transparency with the public about these works (and the sordid history that brought them here), but it will also allow survivors and their families to work out a process repatriation a little easier. . Additionally, the new law shines a light on the complicity of museums in conserving artefacts from genocides (including Native American nations) and movable property slavery – and with this knowledge, comes renewed interest under the form of films or major social movements. These types of thanks have the potential to keep those conversations ever present.

(Going through Hyperallergicfeatured image: Nobelse via the Wikicommons.)

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