up arrow On Grosz and Dates


Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse

George Grosz was an German Expressionist working in Berlin when the Nazis came to power. If his style was an affront to Nazi aesthetics, his politics were more offensive. Soon after the Spartacus uprising in 1919, Grosz joined the Communist Party of Germany. In 1933 as it became clear the winds were shifting to the Nazis’ backs, Grosz fled Germany for the United States.

Grosz left several important works behind with his Berlin dealer. Now his heirs hope to recover those pieces from their current owners, the Museum of Modern Art. As the New York Times reports today, the entire case may hinge on filing dates. The MoMA has already won several cases because the heirs filed too late to be considered under New York law.

As noted in the article, the United States has signed several international agreements in which the signatories agreed to decide these types of cases based on merit rather than technical issues such as late signings. These agreements have no legal binding and they’ve ignored them in previous cases.

I would prefer to see these works in the hands of their rightful owners. In this case, that’s probably the heirs of George Grosz. But given the current Supreme Court’s reluctance to encroach on state matters, it seems very unlikely it will hear the case. The previous decisions will stand and the Grosz works will remain in the MoMA.

UPDATE: On October 3, 2011 the Supreme Court denied the heir’s petition for certiorari.