edited by Andrea Baresl-Brand, Meike Hopp, and Agnieszka Magdalena Lulinska. The University of Chicago Press, February 2018. 344p. ill. ISBN 9783777429632 (h/c), $35.00.
Reviewed May 2018
The discovery in 2012 of a large number of artworks, now known as the Gurlitt Trove, prompted widespread discussion about provenance, Nazi-confiscated art, and Hildebrand Gurlitt himself and has resulted in a significant research effort. Six years later, Gurlitt: Status Report edited by Andrea Baresel-Brand, Meike Hopp and Agnieszka Magdalena Lulinska not only serves as an exhibition catalog to two exhibitions: ‘Degenerate Art’—Confiscated and Sold at the Kunstmuseum Bern and Nazi Art Theft and its Consequences at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn but also as a snapshot of the current understanding of these artworks’ provenance and a high-quality guide to the complexity of the issues involved.
The book begins with general information about the trove and subsequent research. Ten essays follow, each addressing some particular aspect of Gurlitt’s life, his acquisition of the art, the larger art market he operated in, or provenance issues with art bought and sold in Europe during the 1930s and ‘40s. Many of these chapters are informative and enlightening--often with a wealth of specific details --and don’t shy away from the complicated problems and moral ambiguities associated with this trove.. Yet the writing is somewhat uneven, with a few sections unnecessarily duplicating others, providing only general information, or containing distracting stylistic problems which may be the result of translation. Moreover, despite division into two sections, one for Gurlitt and the other for the art, the essays seem to lack overall organization.
Seven case studies follow, each of which provides an impressively detailed look at a particular work or group of works, including highlighting limitations of current research and a discussion of legal and ethical problems. Following that is a catalog with images and currently known provenance of 296 of the works in the Gurlitt Trove. A general timeline of the trove’s history and a detailed glossary are also included.
As further research into the works is conducted, this book is bound to become obsolete (indeed one hopes it will as more information and heirs are discovered), but as documentation of the trove and subsequent research, this is an impressive and timely publication that--despite some issues--is much more detailed than many works on World War II provenance issues. It would make a strong addition to any library that supports research in provenance, problems involving Nazi art dealings, or World War II art issues more broadly. The writing provides enough general background for the casual scholar while still containing much of interest for more specialized readers. Students and researchers will find the discussions of the process, limitations and challenges of provenance research, particularly in the case studies, quite valuable in either university or museum settings.