Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art

August 20, 2021 - January 9, 2022

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This exhibition traces the fascinating timelines of individual objects as they passed through hands and sites before, during, and after World War II, bringing forward their myriad stories.

Henri Matisse, Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar, 1939, oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Brooks McCormick Estate, 2007.290. © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; image provided by The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, New York.

During World War II, untold numbers of artworks and pieces of cultural property were stolen by Nazi forces. After the war, an estimated one million artworks and 2.5 million books were recovered. Many more were destroyed. This exhibition chronicles the layered stories of the objects that survived, exploring the circumstances of their theft, their post-war rescue, and their afterlives in museums and private collections.

Afterlives includes objects looted from Jewish collections during the war, including works by such renowned artists as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Camille Pissarro. The Jewish Museum has also commissioned four contemporary artists to create new works that address the resonance of the exhibition’s themes: Maria Eichhorn, Hadar Gad, Dor Guez, and Lisa Oppenheim. Treasured pieces of Judaica, including rare examples of Jewish ceremonial objects from destroyed synagogues, will also be on view, as well as rarely seen archival photographs and documents that connect the objects to history.

75 years after the Second World War, Afterlives explores how surviving artworks and other precious objects were changed by those events, and how they have moved through time, bearing witness to profound historical ruptures while also acting as enduring carriers of individual expression, knowledge, and creativity. The exhibition follows the paths taken by works of art across national borders, through military depots, and in and out of networks of collectors, looters, ideologues, and restitution organizations.

Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art is organized by Darsie Alexander, Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator, and Sam Sackeroff, Lerman-Neubauer Assistant Curator, The Jewish Museum. The exhibition is designed by Daniel Kershaw with graphic design by IN-FO.CO, Adam Michaels. Abigail Rapoport, Curator of Judaica, assisted in selecting ceremonial objects for the exhibition.

Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art is made possible by The Marilyn and Barry Rubenstein Family Foundation, The Wilf Family Foundations, the David Berg Foundation, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Joan Toepfer Charitable Trust, Ulrika and Joel Citron, Linda and Ilan Kaufthal, Liz Lange and David Shapiro, Vivian and Daniel Bernstein, The Blavatnik Family Foundation, Nancy and Larry Pantirer Family Foundation, Betty Pantirer Schwartz, The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Artis, The Lupin Foundation, and the Office of Cultural Affairs | Consulate General of Israel in New York. Additional support is provided by the Centennial Fund, The Skirball Fund for American Jewish Life Exhibitions, and other generous donors. The publication is made possible, in part, by the Dorot Foundation. Media sponsorship provided by The WNET Group.

The Mobile Tour is supported by



The audio guide is made possible by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Download the audio guide transcript.

Download the verbal description tour transcript.

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