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Germany to replace advisory panel for Nazi-looted art with binding arbitration

17 March 2024

The German federal government and 16 states have approved reforms to the restitution process regarding Nazi-looted art, reports the Art Newspaper. The current system requires both institutions and claimants to agree on a claim before it is presented to a national advisory commission, which has no enforcement powers. The reform will replace applications to the commission with a binding arbitration process, and will no longer require museums to agree to the claim. In the 20 years of its existence the commission has issued only 23 recommendations . The change comes after several efforts by culture minister Claudia Roth to amend Germany’s restitution process. In January, she proposed that any museum that refused to go to the commission after the submission of a claim might become ineligible for federal government funding. This reform was opposed by the state of Bavaria in particular, but Bavaria has since agreed to the ministry’s latest proposal, which is expected to be in place by the end of the year. Roth said, ‘The joint decision today is a big and important step forward to considerable improvements in the return of Nazi-looted art. We have agreed a very ambitious timetable.’

One hundred and fifty-eight employees, fellows and volunteers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have signed an open letter calling on the museum’s director Max Hollein to ‘take a stand in defence of Palestinians and the cultural heritage of Palestine’, reports Hyperallergic. The letter calls for ‘a statement calling for an end to the bombing of Gaza’ and ‘steps to better attribute and showcase [the museum’s] collection of Palestinian artworks’. It also asks that staff who speak about the ongoing war in Gaza be protected and reminds Hollein that the Met has made statements about the importance of conserving cultural heritage in other conflicts. Hollein has provided an initial response to the letter, but according to staff ‘has not made any firm commitments’.

The Russian security service raided the homes and studios of more than 30 artists in the run-up to the country’s presidential elections, reports the Art Newspaper. Several of the artists said they were questioned about the artist Pyotr Verzilov, formerly the publisher of MediaZona, which was founded by his fellow Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina. Last November Verzilov was sentenced in absentia in November to eight and a half years after disclosing that he had joined the Ukrainian army. The homes of three Pussy Riot members and Verzilov’s mother were searched, as were the homes of artists such as Artem Filatov, who was named artist of the year in 2023 at the Cosmoscow art fair and the artist Anatoly Osmolovsky, who has since left Russia.

On Wednesday, the Greek ministry of culture announced that ten shipwrecks have been discovered in the Kasos Strait in the Aegean Sea. The finds dating from 3000 BC to the 20th century were made during an archaeological study, which concluded in October 2023. The wrecked ships had been carrying goods from Spain, Italy, Africa and Anatolia and were discovered by a cross-disciplinary team that included historians, geologists, architects and underwater archaeologists. The individual finds include an anchor dating from Ancient Greece (700–480 BC), pottery from the Roman period (200 BC to 300 AD) and a Spanish amphora dating from 150–170 AD. The areas of special interest for the expedition were based on archaeological and historical evidence, including Homer’s Iliad as well as modern reports and testimonies.