In the United States, with a few exceptions, museums are organized as private charitable trusts or charitable corporations. They derive their purpose from their founders’ charitable purposes. When a museum falters (normally when endowment and other income is insufficient to fund the museum’s operations), options may be limited. In the case of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art, the result was closure and sale of the museum’s assets.

However, as The Barnes Foundation and, more recently, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, have shown, when foundations or other charitable institutions are available as partners, complete dissolution of the museum may be avoided. The question remains: How to accomplish the needed change.
Continue Reading When a Museum Falters: The Corcoran Gallery of Art

The Third Reich’s policy of seizing works of art to build the collection of a planned Fuhrermuseum to be constructed in Linz, Austria, or (for the modern works the regime deemed “entartete Kunst” (degenerate art)) is, by now, well-known. The Rape of Europa (Lynn H. Nicholas, 1994), The Lost Museum (Hector Feliciano, 1995), and The Monuments Men (Robert M. Edsel, 2009) have given detailed accounts of Nazi art looting for a popular audience.

Although the Nazis formal cultural plunder program carried out by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (the ERR), was not established until 1940, forced sales and outright theft of works began much earlier. “Forced sales” are transactions in which works were “purchased” from their owners for a fraction of their market price (or for no payment) in circumstances where the owners, frequently but not exclusively Jews, were desperate to secure exit visas or to raise funds for travel costs to escape Nazi-controlled territories. At times such forced sales were given the formal appearance of licit transactions. Before the war’s end, the Allies and the governments-in-exile issued the London Declaration, invalidating “any transfers of, or dealings with, property, rights and interests of any description whatsoever which are, or have been, situated in the territories which have come under the occupation or control” of the Axis power. The policy articulated in the London Declaration applied “whether such transfers of dealings have taken the form of open looting or plunder, or of transactions apparently legal in form, even when they purport to be voluntarily effected.”     
Continue Reading Nazi-Looted Art: Cornelius Gurlitt and Toren v. Federal Republic of Germany and Free State of Bavaria