Stunning presentation of “art show without art” 

By Karen Herland

The issue of art restitution is growing in importance on the international stage and Concordia has established a distinguished place in that community. We have played a key role in the Max Stern Art Restitution Project’s successful efforts to reclaim works belonging to the renowned philanthropist and to obtain important legal rulings that will facilitate future returns.

Catherine MacKenzie (centre) is surrounded by interested students at Hebrew University’s exhibition of <em>Auktion 392:  Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf</em>. Magnifying glass

Catherine MacKenzie (centre) is surrounded by interested students at Hebrew University’s exhibition of Auktion 392: Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf.

Concordia, along with McGill University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem (co-beneficiaries of Stern’s estate) also supported the travelling exhibition Auktion 392: Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf, an independent academic project. Researched and curated by Catherine MacKenzie of the Art History Department, with several graduate students assisting in the accompanying catalogue, the show, which opened in Montreal in 2006 (see Journal Oct. 26, 2006) and has since travelled to New York, London and Liverpool, is currently on display at the Max and Iris Stern Gallery of Hebrew University in Jerusalem (HUJ).

MacKenzie described the exhibition created by on-site curator Ahuva Passow-Whitman and generously funded by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University as a stunning presentation.

For more photos, see the next page.

“I’m still reeling from how beautifully it was done. It looked so different. They rebuilt three rooms of the Düsseldorf gallery, giving it a period appearance of the 1920s,” MacKenzie said.

Auktion 392 invites viewers to ponder reproductions of some of the missing works from the forced sale of the Galerie’s holdings in 1937 and the larger significance of their theft. The show’s depiction of absent art allows it to be adapted by curators to a variety of gallery spaces, creating a more collaborative exhibition process than with most traveling shows. Because of its unique design concept, Auktion 392 can be presented in different venues simultaneously, as is currently the case with its Liverpool showing.

“This art exhibition without art depicts how the Stern Gallery was one of many galleries across Europe to have been affected by Nazi persecution.” said Clarence Epstein of the President’s Office, who oversees the Stern restitution project on behalf of the three universities. “Its story is not unique.”

During the opening week of the exhibit in Jerusalem, one visitor began to cry at the first stage of the gallery. She explained that her own father had also been a Jewish art dealer in Germany. When he refused the Nazi’s demand to catalogue works for them, he was sent to a camp where he eventually died.

MacKenzie was able to preview the exhibition at HUJ because she gave the keynote address at an international symposium a week earlier at the Israel Museum. Her talk, “Restitution: Against Closure, Against Moving On,” challenges the efforts in some quarters to establish deadlines for claims for Holocaust-era restitution at a time when all too little is yet known about the extent of Nazi art looting and only a fraction of what is known to have been stolen has been returned.

The conference, which brought together speakers from Israel, Europe and North America, took place against the backdrop of Auktion 392 and two major art exhibitions at the Israel Museum, one dealing with the history of French efforts to restitute Nazi-looted art returned by Allied Forces at the end of World War II and the other reflecting upon “orphaned” art and artifacts deposited in Israel by the post-war Jewish Restitution Successor Organization.

“Those shows of work now under the guardianship of Israel and France show us the other side. They have the art, but they don’t know who it belongs to,” said MacKenzie.

Both Epstein and MacKenzie were enthusiastic about the outcomes of the conference and the opening of the Stern exhibition. New contacts were made that will be useful for the restitution project’s ongoing activities in Europe. Epstein said that several organizers requested to have Auktion 392 staged in their venues.

The opportunity to meet with international experts from the various professions involved in addressing Nazi plundering was instructive for MacKenzie, who is working on a proposal for an academic centre that will consider the forensics of looted cultural property.


Concordia University