April 13, 2006
Five Klimt Paintings Arrive in L.A. -- After 68-Year Wait
After waiting and hoping for 68 years, Maria Altmann last week celebrated the arrival in Los Angeles of a world-famous portrait of her aunt, which was stolen from her family by the Nazis. She was joined at the event by hordes of museum officials and international journalists.
The occasion was the first American display of five paintings by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt, including the gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the aunt of the now 90-year-old Altmann.
The Klimt paintings were at the center of a bitter, seven-year legal and diplomatic battle between the Austrian government and Altmann, with the ownership finally ceded to Altmann after crucial decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and an Austrian arbitration panel.
The five paintings, including a second portrait of Bloch-Bauer and three impressionist landscapes by Klimt, are valued at about $300 million.
Altmann last saw the paintings in 1938, shortly after Nazi troops marched into Vienna and confiscated the "Jewish" art collection of the Bloch-Bauers, who fled the country.
Her first reaction at once again seeing the "Golden Adele" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was, "The painting looks bigger here."
Visitors, too, marveled at the spectacular portrait, much richer in the original than in innumerable reproductions, with thick applications of gold paint.
Beaming broadly, Altmann told guests, "I'm just so very happy that after so many years, my wish came true. Sixty-eight years ago, these paintings were hanging in my uncle's home. Sixty-eight years they stayed in Vienna, which used to be my hometown. Now my hometown is Los Angeles and the paintings have followed me home. After a long stay away from my family, we can enjoy them now in Los Angeles."
Asked if she bore any resentment against the Austrian government, which tried tenaciously to keep the Nazi-looted art in a Vienna museum as a national treasure, Altmann responded, "I am a person that tries not to resent. I was very angry at times, but now that we have resolved the matter, I try to see all the good points."
She then paid her respects to two men present who carried the fight to its successful conclusion. One was Viennese editor Hubertus Czernin, who started digging into the Austrian archives in 1998 and in a series of articles, forced his countrymen to face the injustice done to the Bloch-Bauer family.
The other was E. Randol Schoenberg, who as a young Los Angeles lawyer, took on what seemed like a hopeless case and single-handedly overcame the massed legal opposition of both the Austrian and U.S. governments. Schoenberg paid tribute to Czernin as the man "responsible for awakening Austria from its slumber regarding the paintings in its collection."
Schoenberg arrived from Israel for the LACMA opening the day after hearing Zubin Mehta conduct the Israel Philharmonic in works by his two famous grandfathers, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl.
Martin Weiss, the Austrian consul general in Los Angeles, also declared his satisfaction that his country's arbitration panel, rather than a U.S. court, had made the final decision to return the paintings to Altmann.
The Klimt exhibit at LACMA will continue through June 30, but after that, their destination is uncertain.
Austrian authorities have declared that they do not have the budget for the estimated $125 million purchase price of the "Golden Adele" or the $300 million for all five paintings, plus a sixth still being contested, though some efforts are under way to attract private Austrian donors.
Acquisition by LACMA would be a huge coup. Some knowledgeable observers consider that possibility as an acid test of the ability of Michael Govan, the newly named LACMA director and CEO, to propel the Los Angeles institution into the forefront of national museums.
The final decision will be up to Altmann, who after a full day still had enough energy to entertain her family and close friends at afternoon tea.
Like most upper-class Austrian Jews, Altmann was raised in a largely assimilated, nonreligious environment. When the time comes, however, she says she plans to show her support for the Jewish communities in the United States and Austria, for Israel and for the Los Angeles Opera.
As part of the Klimt exhibit, expected to draw some 150,000 visitors, LACMA plans an open conversation on May 7 with Altmann and Schoenberg, and repeated screenings of the film, "Klimt: Adele's Last Will." For information, call (323) 857-6564
--Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Anti-Semitic Acts Rise in State, Decline in Nation
An increase in anti-Semitic incidents in California last year contrasted with a broader national drop in incidents of Jewish hatred in 2005, according to a new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report.
The ADL's annual "Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents" reported 247 acts of anti-Semitic vandalism or harassment in 2005 in California, compared to 237 in 2004 and 180 in 2003. Nationwide, the ADL audit reported a 3 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents between 2005 and 2004, from 1,757 last year compared to 1,821 the year before, with 2004 marking the highest year for such incidents since 1994.
Specifically, the ADL said it received reports on 173 acts of harassment and 74 acts of vandalism in California in 2005, compared to 181 acts of harassment and 56 vandalism reported in 2004. The California incidents included swastikas painted on playground equipment at a Jewish preschool in Riverside County and an elementary school in the San Fernando Valley, where schoolchildren were heard yelling, "Burn the Jews" and "Hitler was right."
"We're definitely seeing more of the California stuff in more suburban, remote areas," said Amanda Susskind, the ADL's Southwest Pacific regional director. "What concerns us is this more casual use of hatred and anti-Semitism -- something short of a crime."
Last summer, a Los Angeles man was indicted on federal charges for allegedly mailing out 52 syringe-filled manila envelopes to government offices and randomly selected L.A. home addresses with traditionally Jewish last names, containing letters bearing the phrase, "Die Jew Die."
Overseas, the Paris office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said April 4 that it is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair to keep anti-Semitic books out of the upcoming fair this fall.
The German book fair officials asked for help after the center reported that during the Casablanca Book and Publishers' Fair in February, vendors were displaying geography books with Israel-free maps of the Islamic world, Arabic copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," an Egyptian-published Sept. 11 conspiracy book and "The Protocols of the Sages of Zion," as well as the Egyptian-Syrian-published title, "The Beginning of the End of the Nation of the Children of Israel." --David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Natchez Thanks Milken Students for Hurricane Aid
More than 100 Jewish high school volunteers from Los Angeles were thanked for helping the city of Natchez, Miss., recover from Hurricane Katrina.
The students, who attend Milken Community High School, joined local black residents Tuesday night at the historic Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Natchez, alternately singing "Oseh Shalom" and black gospel tunes in a ceremony attended by Mayor Phillip West and other Natchez dignitaries.
During their five-day trip to Mississippi, the students bought $50,000 worth of groceries and other necessities for the city of 18,000, which absorbed more than 30,000 Katrina evacuees from New Orleans last year. -- Jewish Telegraphic Agency