At the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998, over 40 participating governments, including the Federal Republic of Germany, under mutual recognition of their respective legal systems, agreed to uphold 11 principles regarding works of art expropriated by the Nazis. The goal of the Washington Conference was to find a “fair and equitable solution” for all parties.
The German federal and state governments and central cultural associations reconfirmed their commitment to these principles in 1999 with the “Common Declaration,” calling for German museums and institutions to examine their collections for Nazi-confiscated cultural goods, in particular, those originating from Jewish estates.
Honoring this commitment, Museum Wiesbaden, in the period between July 2009 and December 2014, conducted systematic research on the provenance of 140 paintings in its collection acquired in the years between 1935 and 1945. Through this work, supported by the Post for Provenance Research (AfP) with funding from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM), Museum Wiesbaden was able to investigate the provenance of over half of the paintings acquired under then director Hermann Voss.
Hermann Voss was not only the director of Wiesbaden’s Picture Gallery in this period but, beginning in March 1943, was named “special envoy” to the planned “Führermuseum” in Linz, assuming a leading role within National Socialist cultural politics and having close connections to the party — Voss was also the “special envoy to the Führer” and Director of the State Art Gallery in Dresden. In light of its former director’s intimate ties to the Nazi regime, it is the moral responsibility of Museum Wiesbaden to research and lay bare its own history as an institution.
Since the early 1990s, Museum Wiesbaden has compiled numerous catalogues of works of 20th century artists, some of which are the outcomes of research projects supported by cooperation partners, such as Vordemberge-Gildewart Foundation, the Russian Avant-Garde Art Foundation, the Art Fund Foundation or the estate of Eva Hesse, and some of which were produced in connection with special exhibitions.
The catalogues also presented research opportunities for young scholars working on various aspects of their doctoral theses.
The art collections of Museum Wiesbaden have been shaped by a sustained interest in spirited critical engagement with currents of Classical Modernism, Modern and Contemporary art. Archival research, documentation and estate management must be more than self-referential reappraisal. Our knowledge of the early 20th century avant-garde, the collection of its artistic production, as well as contemporary testimony from this period, are all indispensable to our current perspective of contemporary art. Yet this fundamental work is often omitted. The classification of individual works, work convolutes, and entire estates in their respective contexts allows us not only to see the outcomes of artistic developments but to trace their structural and conceptual contexts into the present day.