German city cancels exhibit on art dealer Max Stern over restitution demands

German city cancels exhibit on art dealer Max Stern over restitution demands

Dusseldorf official says it’s pulling a project that’s been planned for three years due to current demand for information

German-Jewish art deal Max Stern in Berlin circa 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)
German-Jewish art deal Max Stern in Berlin circa 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)

MONTREAL, Canada — “Anti-restitution bias” is being blamed for the sudden decision by the mayor of Dusseldorf, Germany to cancel a planned exhibit about world-renowned Montreal art dealer Max Stern.

Due to open in February after more than three years of planning by Dusseldorf’s Stadtmuseum, the exhibit – entitled “Max Stern: from Dusseldorf to Montreal” – also was slated to include a stop in Israel before finishing in Montreal.

The German city officials on Tuesday cited “current demands for information and restitution in Germany” as the reason for the exhibit’s abrupt cancellation.

“There are very influential people in Germany who don’t want to see art returned to Jews,” Concordia University professor Frank Chalk told the Montreal Gazette.

“There’s an element of anti-Semitism in this. But we never suspected the mayor [of Dusseldorf] could be vulnerable to this kind of pressure,” he said.

A native of Dusseldorf, Stern took over his late father’s art gallery there in 1934, until the Nazis made it illegal for Jews to sell art. During that period, the Nazis looted hundreds of valuable artworks from his gallery.

Stern soon left Germany and settled in Montreal, where he established the renowned Dominion Gallery.

Following his death in 1987, Concordia became the base for the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which uses funds left by his estate to Montreal’s Concordia and McGill universities and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to seek out and recover gallery artworks stolen by the Nazis.

To date, 16 pieces of art have been recovered and returned to their rightful owners, with hundreds still unaccounted for.

“We are hard-pressed to understand the justification for this decision,” restitution project director Clarence Epstein told The Canadian Jewish News. “It makes no sense.”

Instead of an exhibit, Dusseldorf plans to stage a symposium on Stern.

Dr. Clarence Epstein, foreground, director of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, inspects the back of “Young Man As Bacchus” by Jan Franse Verzijl, during a ceremony to formally return the painting to representatives of the Max and Iris Stern Foundation, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, February 8, 2017. (AP/Mary Altaffer)
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