Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Monuments Men and the National Gallery of Art

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through September 1, 2014

This small exhibit is in the Founders Room, a place I'd never been before, as I didn't know it existed.  It's off the main rotunda on the Main Floor, and it's a lovely room, all wood paneling and comfy sofas.  I'm happy I looked in, just to know about this space.

The exhibit itself was a bit of a disappointment.  It's one small exhibit case, placed so close to the window that the glare was annoying.  Mind you, it was a cloudy day when I visited, so I can't imagine you'd see much of anything if the sun were really shining.

Those difficulties aside, there's really not much to this - just a series of short descriptions of what the Monuments Men were set up to do and how they did it.  There are a few documents included, and that's it.  I did learn that the National Gallery of Art was heavily involved in setting up the MFAA (the official designation for the Monuments Men), and that many of the officers and their families gave their papers to the National Gallery.  It occurred to me to wonder how they did that, since I would have thought those papers would have been government documents.  Oh well, they're in good hands, so no matter.

There is a good summary of the MFAA's work, and it was daunting.  First, they had to find the artworks the Nazis had plundered.  There were over 1,000 different sites where the Nazis were storing their ill-gotten gains; it wouldn't surprise me if there were undiscovered sites to this day.  Then, they had to move the art from those locations to a central processing area where they could be kept safe.  Finally, they had to reunite the art with its rightful owners - a process that continues, as we're seen with the discovery of so many works of art in a Munich apartment building.  I was delighted to learn that the MFAA put on exhibits of the art they had recovered, as a way to boost morale among the soldiers.  I like to think that art is a way to keep peoples' spirits up in the most trying of times.

Verdict: Not worth a trip on its own, but if you're in the building for something else, you could wander up to the rotunda and spend a few moments.

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