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December 23, 2021 11:49 am
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Jewish Artist to Pull Artwork From Swiss Museum Housing Personal Collection of Nazi Arms Dealer

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Inside the art museum Kunsthaus Zurich. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish artist wrote in an open letter on Wednesday that she wants her works taken down from display at an art museum in Switzerland over its decision to permanently house a Nazi arms dealer’s personal collection.

Swiss painter, sculptor and author Miriam Cahn also said she wants to buy her art back from the museum Kunsthaus Zurich, where her work has been on display since the 1980s.

“I no longer want to be represented in this Zurich Kunsthaus and would like to withdraw all of my work. … I will buy them back at the original price of the purchase,” the artist, 72, wrote in a German-language open letter to the museum that was published by the Jewish weekly magazine Tachles. She further told the museum, “Buying art doesn’t whitewash you. Collecting art doesn’t make you a better human being.”

Cahn’s works are currently featured inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and exhibitions of her work were held last year in Basel, Munich and Paris, among other locations, Tachles reported.

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Since October, Kunsthaus Zurich, one of Switzerland’s largest museums, has showcased more than 200 works from the private art collection of businessman Emil Buhrle. The German-born industrialist, who died in 1956, become wealthy by selling weapons to both the Nazis and the Allies during World War II, and then used his fortune to buy around 600 works of art, according to AFP. The museum decided to permanently house his collection of art after it was previously displayed at a private museum near Zurich.

The Buhrle Foundation confirmed that 13 paintings bought by the arms dealer, who was also a Swiss citizen, were originally owned by Jews in France and stolen by the Nazis. Following a number of legal battles in court, Buhrle returned the stolen pieces to their original owners in the 1940s but then repurchased nine of them, the foundation said. AFP said that some question the origins of other works in the collection, which include paintings by Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Gaugin and Picasso.

Last week, the Buhrle Foundation announced that research conducted over the past two decades have not found “problematic provenance” for any of the works in the Buhrle collection. The collection’s director Lukas Gloor insisted at a press conference that Buhrle “has not left us a collection of Nazi art.”

Kunsthaus said a team of independent experts will review the origins of the artworks in the collection. A museum spokesperson also told AFP that Cahn has yet to submit an official request to “withdraw” or “buy back” her work.

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