Nix Genaues Weiß’mer Ned …

Mr Gurlitt is traveling. So if you see a small gray-haired blue-eyed man in elegant clothes pulling a small hard protected suitcase on wheels – don’t aim a photographic apparatus at him, he may get angry.
The eighty year old is in the centre of the latest art-“scandal” that involves “Raubkunst”, “entartete Kunst” and what not. It’s incredible what some pen pushers came up with, one writerling even mentioned the “Bernsteinzimmer” – next Gurlitt will show us Atlantis.  Also incredible is how the Staatsanwaltschaft, the public prosecution, handled the case.
What “case” by the way ?
From what I have read I can piece together that Mr. Gurlitt was policed some years ago when he traveled back from Switzerland into Germany. That is a routine control by customs officers and (I think) train police. The reason for this controls is the crime of tax evasion: Clever people bring money into Switzerland, grow a fortune there and pay no taxes in the country whose citizens they are. Germany for example. So German customs officers check on people and have the right to search them. Gurlitt carried some thousands € in cash, the normal enforcement was started.
There is a small disfigurement on this: Mr Gurlitt holds an Austrian passport, he is no German citizen. He has no German tax number, no security thingy – nothing; basically it’s not the (German) public persecution’s job to care about Mr Gurlitt, as long as he does not commit a crime. Travelling and carrying some cash while on travel is still no crime.
Anyway he lives in an appartement in Munich and the coppers searched it. They found some 1400 works of art. Not – as claimed in the first newspaper articles – stuffed among rusting cans and rotting food, but well stored and in good condition. They confiscated the collection – no reason given on which basis – and took care to find an art historian who should work through the whole thing.
Welll … especially a juristic pedant should know that Provenienzforschung, provenance research, is one of the most difficult things one can be involved in, especially when it’s about modern art and the 1930s and 1940s. They obviously had the idea the art historian would simply have to look into a catalogue or something, retrieve some info and that’s it. If so, it’s a bit naive.
This happened some time ago, 2011 ? The public prosecution remained very quiet about all of that. The story emerged only weeks ago because a German magazine somehow stumbled across the whole thing, I have no clue how that happened.
Now, with some ballyhoo, a “task force” is established, international authorities and all: Before it could not be quiet and silent enough – now it can’t be open and public enough. Interested parties line up and demand to know what pictures and other objects are there. And as if it would be a matter of course, most writers talk about “Raubkunst” and restitution.
As if it would be that easy.

I find only two things interesting. First, Gurlitt sold another picture after the collection was confiscated; this one was a bit damaged. So he may have some other objects in a garage somewhere. Second, some museums show up and want to know – and others do not. Museums, especially German ones, tend to forget that (at least) some of them did benefit from the art-“politics” of the 1930s and 1940s. And museums generally show absolutely no inclination to restitute something, there are some not so nice examples over the years.
Basically nothing can be taken for sure as long as no complete list or catalogue of Gurlitt’s collection is available, which not only documents and identifies the objects, but also gives the legal status of every single piece as it is known today.

I think that it all will end like the proverbial “Hornberger Schießen”: Big Blam, much smoke, no results. A part of the paintings at least was handed back to Gurlitt’s father after the war by the American authorities, he was named as the legal owner. Gurlitt senior was an experienced trader – I explicitly do not want to say something about the moral side of his actions. And it is clear that his long time assertion that his whole collection did perish in the Dresden inferno, is a plain lie.
Besides: Shortly after the first headlines about the collection an Austrian art historian was cited, saying that he can’t understand the fuzz: It was well known for years that Gurlitt would sit on a mountain of pieces, without any intention to sell.

14 thoughts on “Nix Genaues Weiß’mer Ned …

  1. I’ve noticed, but not read, several articles related to this. Most of the headlines scream “Nazi art hoard” or some such.

    PS: I’m having trouble understanding the post title. Sorry.

  2. No need to say sorry, dear LX: “Nichts Genaues weiß man nicht” – correctly: “Nothing definite one does not know” – makes not so much sense. In “Hochdeutsch” the double negation is understood as an “yes”.
    Example: Ich kann keine Frau nicht lieben = Ich liebe alle Frauen. Silly example, just what came to mind.
    In dialects (especially the Bavarian) a double negation is still (sometimes) used as affirmation, a strong “double no”:
    “Gar niemals nicht” is the definite “never”, doesn’t go more never.
    This is how I used it here – there is absolutely nothing to know for sure in this case.

    The spoken variant carries also a bit of rumour, of a taste with it … like there must be something else; things do look strange; nobody knows or wants to know; everybody tells a story of her / his own
    The strange orthography tries to give the Franconian pronounciation. “Weiß’mer” = “weiß man”; “ned” = “nicht”.

  3. I’ve googled the name Gurlitt and I’ve found that he was in the Sandwichian newspapers 2 days ago. They mention him as “owner of more than 1.500 works of art likely stolen by the nazis from Jewish families” (Picassos, Matisses, Durers, etc) and now confiscated by the German authorities and kept in a secret place. The digital papers add that he was caught in the Swiss border with 9.000 euros in his pocket. WOW!

    This guy must have gathered gazillions of euros in his catacombs! Art is surely one of the best investments posible! Even more if you get it free! -irony, of course-. I’ll check out the papers to read what the outcome of this story is.

    But Mago, unfortunately history repeats itself: South Americans blame the Spaniards for killing the natives to steal their gold inthe 15th century. It seems the human race will never learn!

  4. @ Leni: Spain was the predominate European power in exploring Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest US. When I was in school, Christopher Columbus was presented as a hero bringing civilization to the Americas. Of course, perceptions changed and by the 500th anniversary of 1492, Columbus and the Spaniards were the “bad guys.” Although I think Italian-Americans in the Northeast still honor Columbus Day.

  5. Dear LX, as far as I know the origins of Christopher Columbus are not clear (Spaniards like to think he was born in Spain, but the main theories state that his brithplace is Genova, Italy. I guess this must be the reason why Italian-Americans honour his day). The national day in Spain is 12th of october, the day of the “discovery” of America.

    Actually, Columbus wasn’t a “bad guy”, but the one who made it possible, with a little (financial) help from Isabel, the powerful queen of Spain at the time. Later on, the so-called “conquerors” (the “bad guys”, Spanish explorer-soldiers at the service of the Empire in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries) like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro (just to name the most notorious) submitted large native South American populations (the Aztecs, the Incas etc). Massacres and executions were too frequent and often carried out in the name of God. That’s a dark part of our history (but not the only one).

  6. No catacombs, Leni, but a normal, a bit run down Appartementhaus in Munich. It’s difficult with the word “stolen” – again, I do not want to talk about the moral side of the whole thing. From an ethic point of view the things must be given back to those who were forced to give them away in the 1930s and 1940s. Some people were forced to sell their stuff way under value; other stuff was simply stolen; other materials were confiscated – from a moral point of view all these different legal status may be nonsense, Diebstahl and Raub are theft and robbery, regardless of the air of legality someone wants to pin to it. From a legal point of view they make a big difference. And again, especially the museums, did not act pretty respectful over the last years.
    Gurlitt’s father was one of the leading traders in art through the 30s and 40s. Basically his job was to sell the so called “entartete Kunst” and buy what the leading idiots liked. A lot of the “entartete Kunst” vanished, and chances are that some works can be identified and found in this collection. I wonder what would happen next. I guess we’ll hear about it – it’s too good for the magazines …

    One – if not the only ? – Lichtblick was the padre who tried to save the books of the aboriginies. An interesting project was the “state” the societas Jesu founded. and little known is that Franconia (yes!) also was involved: At least the large trading societies of Augsburg and Nuremberg had a hand in it and have send over own people. I remember that there was a report about the New World, but forgot the name of the writer. The “Jesuitenstaat” seemingly did not exist very long, but (at least in what I remember from literature etc) may have been one of the few places where aboriginies were treated as humans. But I think all this happened either in Middle- or in South-America.

  7. Coming from the ex-colonies and having a German mother, my view on history is a little more chilled.

    History is written by the winners. It happened. We’re all here because of it.

    Would we do the same again? Is a question that should never go away.

    But then, I’m a simplistic thinker when it comes to these kind of debates.

  8. Dear Mago,
    Let me tell you a story to help you make peace with the museums: 2 years ago, the Dumbass Industries hosted an art exhibition about Alexander the Great. The pieces came from more than 40 museums (Kabul’s National Museum among them).

    The Director, Mr Omara Khan Masoudi (one of the most prominent Afghan art experts) was appointed in 2001 by President Karzai) personally safeguarded the crown jewels of Afghanistan (Bactrian Treasure) in vaults under the presidential palace in 1988 as the Soviet occupation gave way to civil war.

    Unique pieces from the museum were transferred to the center of the city, stored in different places and shifted when the civil war started. The museum was looted (pieces appeared in the black market) and took fire. Unfortunately 70% of the artifacts were destroyed by the rebels. Masoudi and the museum staff collected and hid the remaining pieces.

    In 2004 the new museum of Kabul was inaugurated. The artifacts saved from the war were restored and catalogued in English. The Afghan national treasures were shown at the British Museum and then in France, US, Canada and Germany. Masoudi received a number of international awards for his share in the rehabilitation of the museum and the prevention of lootings of important cultural and historic locations.

    About the Jesuits, I believe you. They have always been considered as the most intellectual among the religious orders. It was actually a Spanish Dominican friar who lived during the 16th century (Bartolomé de las Casas) who wrote a chronicle of the first decades of colonization of the West Indies and focused particularly on the atrocities committed by the Spanish colonizers against the indigenous peoples. He is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights and officially appointed “Protector of the Indians”.

  9. I’ve read about this. It’s something I feel I should have an opinion on but currently I don’t beyond that it should be given back when possible. I really would like to see the endartete Kunst. I wonder if images are online. I might search when I get over this Schnuppen. When I have a Schnuppen weiß Isch gar nix genaues.

  10. I would not dare to think of you as “simplistic” dear Roses.

    de las Casas, I forgot the name of the canis Domini, thank you Leni Qinan ! Khan Masoudi is seriously a hero, and I remember the Bactrian Treasure exhibition. I wonder whether European art historians would drag their black clad bellies into the shooting line for objects … they all wear black btw, kunsthistorikerschwarz.

    Schnuppen excuses anything, Hoppelschaumerhol’ Dich schnell und gut.

    Herrjemine – LX ! Where do you find these outlandish numbers ?! I never knew that something like that even exists.

  11. I was interested in the double negation in Hochdeutsch. That follows logically of course: ¬ (¬ p) ⊃ p. I wonder if you could tell us Herr Mago whether in some versions of Plattdeutsch the opposite is the case. Here, 100km north of Manchester, one would say “I don’t know nowt [nothing] about that,” or “I’ve not had owt to eat” — in which a double negative means a negative.

  12. Sprachwissenschaftler, Looby?
    In the dialects the double “no” is a very strong “no”.
    In Bavarian: “Gar niemals nicht” is the definite “never”, doesn’t get (no) more never.
    In Platt: “Dat kriggst du nienich (niemals) nich trecht.” You will never get this right, and it means NEVER.
    Cited from this page, a Radio Bremen feature about specialties of Plattdeutsch. I barely understand real Platt.

  13. Thank you for that. No, I’m not a linguist, just curious about how the double negative works–and so it appears that in Bavarian and Platt, it works the same way as in the Umgangssprache of my area, as an intensifier.

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