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Gurlitt: Status report An Art Dealer in Nazi Germany


On my private tours through Berlin I almost daily pass one of Berlin's greatest exhibition centers: The Martin-Gropius-Bau, named after it's architect, the great uncle of Walter Gropius.

Opened in 1881, the building used to house the Museum of Applied Arts and later the Museum of Prehistory as well as the Asian collection of Berlin.

Having been heavily damaged in WW2, it avoided being torn down, standing just west of the Berlin Wall in the American Sector of Berlin.

Many different institutions such as the Berlin State Museums, the German Historical Museum and many more use the Gropius-Bau for temporary exhibitions ranging from archaeology, history to classic and contemporary art.

Since the 14th of September it shows an exhibition that I finally had the time to visit myself:

Gurlitt: Status report

An Art Dealer in Nazi Germany

The story and the exhibition started with this suitcase:

During a customs check in a train coming from Switzerland in September 2010, the authorities discovered a lot of undeclared money being brought into the country by Andreas Gurlitt, a German citizen living in Munich.

An investigation on the grounds of suspected tax evasion was started, resulting in the search of Mr. Gurlitts apartment in March 2012 during which a vast art collections was seized. More paintings were discovered in 2014 in Mr. Gurlitts house in Salzburg.

By then many magazines and newspapers had reported about a 'Nazi treasure' being found. Cornelius Gurlitt, father of Andreas Gurlitt, was a famous art dealer in Nazi Germany, many pieces of the collection therefore were likely to be looted art.

A task force was created and Andreas Gurlitt agreed to have the provenance of each work of art to be investigated with the stated goal of restituting the pictures into the hands of the families that they have been taken away from.

So far four paintings have been restituted.

Andreas Gurlitt died in May 2014, bequeathing his collection to the Bern Art Museum.

Now, for the first time the collection is exhibited publicly in the center of Berlin.

The exhibition is more though than just presenting a collection ranging from the Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer over impressionist sculptor Auguste Rodin to the Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

For every painting exhibited the known provenance is listed, artists and collectors are introduced in little segments and it is explained how the puzzle pieces were put together by the investigators trying to find out whether the painting was regularly bought or was effectively looted.

It also tells the life story of Cornelius Gurlitt, from a museum director and supporter of contemporary art to his career in the Third Reich, working for the Nazi regime.

Furthermore the Nazi concept of „Entartete Kunst (degenerate art)“ is explained and the Nazi art policy put into focus.

A wonderful audio guide is included in the 10,-€ entrance fee (6,50 € reduced) and the exhibition will still be open until the 7th of January 2019.

Many of my private tours, such as the Highlights or the Third Reich, either pass by the Gropius-Bau or can be flexibly arranged to finish close to it, giving you the opportunity to visit the exhibition after our private tour through Berlin.

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©2020 Berlin private tours by Dennis Behnke

Berlin, Germany