December 5, 2019
by Irina Tarsis, Esq.
You know you are in need of a reputation management when the entire world knows your name and your address and nobody is thinking of sending you greeting cards. Also, reputation management might be a good idea when 1) your father was an art dealer connected to the Nazis, 2) you are caught hoarding hundreds of valuable artworks of questionable provenance, and 3) you may or may not have been hiding Nazi-era looted art as well as avoiding paying income taxes.
Regardless of whether the Monuments Men-mania is dying down or not, Cornelius Gurlitt saga continues to unfold. With the German government contemplating changing its statute of limitations laws to allow for the recovery of looted art, and the international community is antsy to jump into the game of reviewing Gurlitt’s trove. Countless headlines, tweets and posts have embarrassed the Bavarian authorities and prompted the creation of a special international task force to review provenance of paintings and works on paper taken from Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich in 2012 and from his house in Salzburg in February 2014.
Initially taciturn and reticent to speak in his own defense, Gurlitt had made asked for his art back, alleging that he did nothing wrong and wondered why he had been separated from his property. Since then the tone has evolved, and now there is a bilingual website dedicated to explaining Gurlitt’s position and soliciting claims for works that he originally had no plans to relinquish. The website went live on 18 February 2014 — see: http://www.gurlitt.info. On the homepage, there is an image of a gentile and approachable man, not in his early 80s – not Gurlitt – used to epitomize him and invites website visitors to engage in “[d]iscussions about the Gurlitt case.”
The website names four individuals working for Gurlitt: Dr. Hannes Hartung (Private Law), Prof. Dr. Tido Park (Criminal), Derek Setting (Criminal), Christoph Edel (maintainer) as well as Stephen Holziger of Holziger Associates (the spokesperson for Gulritt, who registered the Gurlitt.info domain name). According to Holzinger, the Gurlitt.info website, “reiterates our willingness to engage in a dialog with both the general public and any claimants.” As Holzinger’s own website states, the services his ‘highly specialized communications consulting form’ provides include development and implementation of “purposeful communication and reputation management strategies for entrepreneurs, wealthy families, executive and advisory board members, corporations, SMEs, investors, institutions and associations in crisis situations, in case of disputes and during civil and criminal court proceedings,” otherwise, a public relations company for the wealthy with big problems. Perhaps the recent revelation of the Salzburg stash was a public relations move prompted by Holzinger in an effort to build up goodwill and to preemptively ward off another wave of press coverage. Indeed, it was Holzinger, who revealed on 11 February 2014, “that Mr Gurlitt has more works at his house in Salzburg, Austria, on top of the 1,400 pieces found at his Munich home in 2012.” Just imagine the firestorm, had the news of the Salzburg stash been scooped by the media instead…
Gurlitt.info states that only four families have come forward so far to claim works in the Gurlitt trove and that at most, only 3% of the entire collection may constitute Nazi-era looted art, the rest being rightfully owned by Gurlitt. As the German authorities continue to make heads and tails of the story, provenance researchers must be able access to the collection in order to assist in the investigation. It is more probable than not that more families will step forward and offer proof of ownership in other works taken from Gurlitt.
In the meantime, at least according to the Gurlitt.info:
“the Gurlitt case is by no means unique. Nazi plunder in German museums has long been known to be a problem. And there is definitely still a lot of looted art in private and public collections. Quantitatively speaking private and public collections may well contain considerably more instances of suspected looted art than in the case of Cornelius Gurlitt.”
About the Author: Irina Tarsis, Esq. is the Founder of Center for Art Law; in addition to provenance research and teaching, she focuses her practice on business and art law. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.