Sunday, February 16, 2014

Monuments Men: On the Frontline to Save Europe's Art, 1942-1946

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through April 20, 2014

In case you don't know, the Archives of American Art is contained within the Museum of American Art.  They have one room dedicated to their use, and except for when they're changing displays, there's always a show.  Now that the Christmas season is behind us for another year, the card display has been put away, and the Archives is riding the George Clooney wave.

For those of you living under a rock, George Clooney has recently released a movie about the Monuments Men, the group of art historians, archivists and librarians that worked during World War II, first to protect historic buildings from Allied bombing, and then found art the Nazis had stolen from all over Europe.  For those of us who love art, their work cannot be valued highly enough.  Most people had never heard of the Monuments Men until the release of this recent film, but now they are enjoying a great vogue. 

The Smithsonian holds the papers of several of the Monuments Men, and this display shows their letters, their working papers and photographs of the men and those with whom they worked.  Of course, it's always hard to make documents into something exciting, but the subject matter does a good job of holding one's interest here.  One figure with whom I was unfamiliar before I saw this exhibit is Rose Valland, a French art historian.  She was captured by the Nazis and used her situation to spy on her captors (who didn't know she spoke German) to find out the location of many hidden treasures.  She risked her life to save stolen art, and was to prove a valuable ally to the Monuments Men in their work.

Verdict: If you have any interest in this subject, check out this small exhibit.  The real Monuments Men are not so photogenic as their Hollywood counterparts, but their story is fascinating nonetheless.

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