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Gallery talks explores history of collection during WWII


By VICTORIA SUMMERS




On a weekend filled with the memory of contemporary loss, IU Art Museum took a moment to look at loss of the past.  A gallery talk Sunday at the museum explored the history and role of art in World War II.

From “Degenerate Art” to “The Monuments Men: An Overview of Art in Nazi Germany,” the talk focused on the Nazi-driven looting of major works of modern art during the rise of the Third Reich.

The talk was presented by Jenny McComas, class of 1949, the head of the museum’s Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project and the curator of Western Art after 1800. She said she began her investigation by conducting research into the European works in museum’s collection and determining their ownership histories.

The main goal, she said, was to make sure the works had not been looted during World War II.

“In our provenance of ownership research, we’ve uncovered a lot of interesting stories about the works in our collection,” McComas said.

During the 45-minute gallery talk, she highlighted some of these histories and explained how art functioned within the Third Reich of Nazi Germany.

McComas said it is estimated that by the end of the war in 1945, 20 percent of the art in Europe had been displaced by being looted, destroyed, or lost during bombings. In the last decade, museums have taken great interest in determining the provenance of their works.

“I’m personally thrilled that the museum community is taking this task upon themselves,” McComas said. “I hope that by conducting our research, we can correct the wrongs that were perpetrated and deepen our understanding of the works in our own collection.”

Bloomington resident Misti Shaw said she feels the gallery exhibit is an enriching art experience as it relates to history.

“I think it’s important to study any art as it relates to its culture and politics,” Shaw said. “It puts art into a context that gives us a richer understanding of history.”

Ph.D. student Luke Wood said he enjoyed the exhibit because World War II plays such a large role in the collective cultural memory.

“Students are aware of the events and should therefore be interested,” Wood said.
The gallery talk was one part of “The Spoils of War: Art in Nazi Germany,” sponsored by Themester 2011: Making War, Making Peace, a semester-long program that explores the uses of art in Nazi Germany.

Themester 2011 also included a screening of the film “The Rape of Europa” at the IU Cinema Sunday to delve deeper into the history of the looting of art during the war.
More related events will follow throughout the semester, including the self-guided tour of exhibits in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World, located on the first floor of the museum.

The exhibit features 12 European paintings and sculptures with connections to World War II and includes a free gallery brochure that explains how the works survived the war and came to be part of the collection.

Ph.D. student Erin Corker said she felt the “Art in Nazi Germany” exhibit is important for students because it’s a learning experience apart from school.

“This is an important opportunity to learn outside the classroom or seminars,” Corker said. “It’s a part of learning outside of the
University.”

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