Miriam Cahn Wants to Buy Her Art Back From a Zurich Museum to Protest Its Display of a Nazi Arms Dealer’s Collection

Cahn is offering to buy her work back at the price the Kunsthaus Zurich originally paid.

Kunsthaus Zürich. Photo by Geri Born/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Image
Kunsthaus Zürich. Photo by Geri Born/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Image

Artist Miriam Cahn is asking to buy her art back from the collection of Kunsthaus Zurich after the museum hung more than 200 works from the Bührle Collection, which was purchased using money made by selling arms to the Nazis.

The Jewish artist has offered the original price paid for her works in an open letter condemning the museum’s decision to collaborate with the collection and display it in October. 

Georg Bührle was a businessman who made the majority of his wealth through selling arms to Germany during and following World War II. The Bührle collection has said that none of the works in the show were looted, but some critics still question their provenance.

There have been calls for an independent review into the provenance of works in the Bührle Collection, as well as to establish a federal restitution body. Currently, there is nowhere to refer provenance or restitution claims in Switzerland.

“I … no longer wish to be represented in this Zurich Kunsthaus and would like to withdraw all my works,” Cahn wrote in a letter published in the Jewish newspaper Tachles.

Paintings by Miriam Cahn. Image: Ben Davis.

Paintings by Miriam Cahn. Image: Ben Davis.

The decision to display items from the controversial collection was made in 2012 while the museum was planning the new wing that now houses them. The city overrode the original plan for the Kunsthaus to carry out provenance research into the works on display and the director of the Bührle Collection, Lukas Gloor, threatened to pull the agreement entirely.

“Now a new situation has arisen due to the city encroaching on the autonomy of the Kunsthaus,” Gloor said, according to SwissInfo. “If the city dictates to the Kunsthaus how the Emil Bührle Collection is to be explained to the public, then “we can no longer participate,” he said. He has since resigned.

“In Switzerland there have only been a few individual contentious cases in this area,” Benno Widmer, the head of the federal department of museums and collections, told SwissInfo. “It is above all the responsibility of those involved to find a fair and just solution in line with the Washington Principles.” He added: “If the need intensifies due to an increasing number of contentious cases, then the demand for an external commission could be re-examined.”


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