Openings USA

Klimt lawyer’s fee funds museum

New space for Los Angeles Holocaust centre opens in October

E. Randol Schoenberg escorts Maria Altmann an exhibition at Lacma of paintings by artist Gustav Klimt that were looted by the Nazis during World War II

new york. The US lawyer who negotiated the restitution of five paintings by Klimt has funded the relocation and expansion of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Its new $18m building opens on 10 October thanks to the generosity of Randol Schoenberg, who is the president of the museum as well as the lawyer who represented Maria Altmann in her family’s successful battle to recover paintings by Gustav Klimt that were seized in Nazi Vienna from her uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Five Bloch-Bauer Klimts returned from the Belevedere Museum were sold in 2006, including Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, which went to Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie allegedly for $135m (The Art Newspaper, October 2006, p9).

Schoenberg became president of the museum in 2005, before his success in the Altmann arbitration enabled him to contribute about a third of the project’s cost. “There’s definitely a connection, and I think it makes sense. I’ve been fortunate as a result of the Altmann case. What would be more fitting than to use some of that to build a museum for Holocaust education?” he said.

The museum, described as the oldest Holocaust museum in the US, was founded in 1961 by survivors who met in an English class at Hollywood High School. Earlier housed at Los Angeles’ Jewish Federation, the museum’s new home, designed by local architect Hagy Belzberg, will display humble objects of great historical value that reflect the experiences of Holocaust survivors and victims. “It could be documents, Red Cross letters, clothing, photographs, anything that helps tell the stories that we’re telling as part of the museum,” said Schoenberg.

Admission to the Holocaust museum will be free at the new site in Pan Pacific Park, which is near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Schoenberg expects 50,000 visitors a year. Most of LA’s remaining Holocaust survivors live within a mile of the park, Schoenberg said, yet “99% of the people going through aren’t going to know anything about the Holocaust.”

The museum’s exclusive focus on the Holocaust differentiates it from the Museum of Tolerance in LA founded by the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

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