Photo and Story by Joshua Tilton / Contributing Writer
David Glasser, the Executive Chair of the Ben Uri Gallery in London, spoke Wednesday morning in the College of Education Building on the purpose and moral obligation of reclaiming art looted by the Nazi Regime. The Ben Uri Gallery, a registered charity and museum founded in 1915, is the oldest Jewish cultural organization in the United Kingdom.
Glasser is currently touring Tennessee, having previously spoken at the University of Memphis and Vanderbilt University. He was introduced by MTSU Interim Dean of Liberal Arts, Karen Peterson. Glasser spoke at length about the moral objectives of the Ben Uri Gallery. The primary focus of the gallery is to display art created by migrants of Jewish and other ethnic origins. On display in the gallery are works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine and Jacob Epstein. In the last decade, the Ben Uri Gallery has curated over 50 critically acclaimed exhibitions.
Emphasizing the obligation that society has to right the wrongs of the Nazi regime, Glasser explained his purpose in seeking out pieces of art confiscated during Hitler’s time in power.
“Our heritage is the source and inspiration for a strategy of a large, encompassing museum of art, identity and migration celebrating the contribution of all immigrant communities,” Glasser said.
After World War II, the focus of the museum’s curators has been primarily to reclaim Nazi-looted art. It was estimated that the Nazi Party looted close to 20 percent of all European artworks. Glasser discussed legislation’s minimal support efforts in helping the curators track down the stolen art.
However, on Dec. 16, 2016, President Barack Obama introduced the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, which provided a much clearer path for families hoping to reclaim art that was stolen during the Holocaust. The tension between museums and families claiming ownership of the paintings remains evident, but the efforts of the Ben Uri Gallery have aided in recovering many lost items of artistic value.
The Jewish population loss during the Holocaust was roughly equivalent to the entire population of Tennessee, and Glasser argued that reclaiming art lost to the Nazis is a means of reestablishing a heritage for future generations. It is a way not to forget the tragedy of the lives lost to the Nazi regime, and in drawing a relatable connection to the people of Tennessee, Glasser made the true scale of the massacre more impactful to his audience.
Glasser’s call to action to those in attendance was rooted in a “moral imperative” to stand up for what is right. In reclaiming lost paintings, sculptures and other forms of artistic expression, Glasser explained that those individuals’ stories might be preserved for generations to come.
“It’s in your hands now,” Glasser said. “Miracles are examples of the impossible, but they happen anyway. You have the capacity to make miracles happen.”
View the entire Ben Uri collection here.
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