An Art Collective Has ‘Hacked’ Kunsthaus Zurich’s Exhibition of Works Gifted by an Industrialist With Nazi Ties

The group swapped the QR codes that accompanied each painting to point visitors toward information about Bührle's past.

Kunsthaus Zürich. Photo: © Franca Candrian, Kunsthaus Zürich.

Earlier this week, an art collective “hacked” the QR codes for Kunsthaus Zurich’s exhibition of works from the collection of Emil Bührle, a German-Swiss industrialist with ties to the Nazis.

Kunsthaus Zurich received a permanent loan of the massive Emil Bührle Collection in 2021, which has been on view at the museum, containing beloved works from Paul Cézanne’s Boy in a Red Vest (1888–90) to Claude Monet’s Poppy Field Near Vétheuil (1879). Other artists Bührle collected include Van Gogh, Renoir, and Pissarro.

QR codes displayed alongside the works linked to documents providing provenance information at the Emil Bührle Collection’s website, but were replaced by the Komitee Kunstraub Konfiskation Kommunikation, or KKKK, in recent days.

The new QR codes instead led visitors to the collective’s website, with text describing Bührle, the “generous patron” of the collection, as a “Nazi sympathizer.”

An Instagram account linked from the KKKK website shows members of the collective peeling off the QR code sticker for Georges Rouault’s Clown at the Table from the wall. The hacker then swaps in a new sticker.

“Soon the Bührle collection will close its doors forever. Come on over. Scan the codes,” the group captioned the post. The group shared another post that showed the QR codes for works by Degas and Manet in plastic bags.

The KKKK on its website called the Bührle’s collection the “Swiss version of a Holocaust memorial” and noted that the collector had sold weapons to the Nazis.

“Emil Georg Bührle was a Nazi sympathizer, an authoritarian militarist, at best a war profiteer—but probably a war criminal,” the website reads, as translated from German.

Kristin Steiner, a spokesperson for Kunsthaus Zürich, said the museum noticed the altered QR codes in the collection last weekend.

“As the artworks themselves were not involved, there was no alarm when the collective changed the QR codes,” Steiner said.

The exhibition of the collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich will close September 5 but the art collective is seeking the “unconditional and immediate restitution of all works that Emil Bührle stole directly or indirectly from Jewish collectors” and the sale of remaining works for the benefit of Holocaust survivors.

However, this Fall, Kunsthaus Zurich will host a new exhibition from the Emil Buhrle Collection titled “Art, Context, War and Conflict” that will be on view for at least a year.

“The conception of the new exhibition focuses not only on the historical context of the Emil Buhrle Collection, but on a differentiated approach to it in the immediate present,” read a news release for the show, translated from German.

Kunsthaus Zurich said it will juxtapose “different interpretations and perspectives” of the collection and Buhrle’s legacy.

“We are looking very specifically at our social role as a museum,” Ann Demeester, the director of the museum, said in a statement. She added that the museum wants to encourage discourse and not avoid controversial contexts.

“For this reason, we think it is important to jointly develop a new approach to the Bührle Collection, in which critical questioning arouses curiosity and history connects with today,” she said.

Steiner said that KKKK’s actions show that the themes that will be addressed in the new exhibition “continue to be topical.”

“We are working with a multi-voiced team and with feedback from a council of external experts on this exhibition, moving forward carefully and with as much precision as possible,” Steiner said.

“We look forward to engaging in discussion when it opens. We have reached out to the KKKK to start an in-person conversation beforehand.”

Artnet News has reached out to the KKKK for additional comment.


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