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Concordia crusades to recover stolen art

by Archives April 6, 2005

Concordia University is working to track down Max Stern’s art holdings that were sold by force or stolen by the Nazis during the 1930s, a project which began five years ago.

Concordia, along with McGill University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is a primary beneficiary of art collector Max Stern’s estate.

“We are making claims on works of art that were foresold,” explained Dr. Clarence Epstein, director of special projects at Concordia. “We have identified 250 pieces and have located five.”

The university has been working with Europe’s Commission for Looted Art, London’s Art Loss Register and the New York State Holocaust Claims Processing Office to retrieve the stolen works. According to Dr. Epstein, the university and its affiliates have located artwork in the U.S., Britain, Holland and Germany. After discovering the works, each piece is evaluated to determine its worth.

“Depending on quality, Concordia will give the works of art on loan to Canadian museums,” Dr. Epstein said.

The university is in the preliminary stages of their efforts to seek restitution. Dr. Epstein explained that Concordia remains focused on bringing the works to Canada before beginning negotiations with national museums.

Currently, the Art Gallery of Windsor is hosting an exhibition on Stern entitled A Dealer for “Living Art”: Selected Works from the Max and Iris Stern Donation to Montreal.

“There has been a very good response,” said Cassandra Getty, the gallery’s collections manager. “People attending the show want to see the works as well as the work put behind the art studio process.”

The exposition, which first ran at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) from Sept. 1 to Jan. 23, pays homage to the Sterns on the centennial of Max Stern’s birth. The display includes fifty works by Canadian artists donated by the MMFA, the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal and the Leonard & Ellen Binah Gallery of Concordia University. Getty explained that it was the exhibition’s range in artists that convinced the gallery to host the event, which opened Feb. 23 and runs until May 1.

“We’ve attracted a lot of Americans because they want to see Canadian culture,” Getty said.

The gallery, which hosts approximately 100,000 visitors annually, expects that tens of thousands of art lovers will have seen the Stern exhibition before it moves to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in June.

Earlier this year, the Leonard & Ellen Binah Gallery presented Max Stern: The Taste of a Dealer. The exposition ran from Sept. 1 to Oct. 9, 2004 and featured privately owned works that were originally acquired from the Dominion Gallery’s collection.

Born in Muchengladbach, Germany in 1904, Dr. Max Stern emigrated to Montreal in 1941 after conditions in Nazi Germany became intolerable for Jewish people. Stern began to work under Rose Millman at the Dominion Gallery in 1942. In 1944, he became business partners with Millman and in 1947, Max and Iris Stern bought the Dominion Gallery.

After WWII, Stern was able to recover some of his paintings that had been confiscated by the Nazis in Cologne, Germany. Regarded as one of the Canada’s most important art dealers, Stern promoted Canadian artists at a time when many struggled to have their work displayed. He died in 1987 after running the Dominion Gallery for over 40 years, and the gallery was sold to a new owner in 2000.

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