Shattering resignation of the Bührle committee

“Our twelve-month collaboration was marked by great mutual respect (…) but I regret, however, that we did not find consensus in the concrete implementation”. It is with these words that the director of Kunsthaus Zurich, the Dutch Ann Demeester, officially confirmed on October 27 by press release the rumors, first revealed jointly by German-speaking Swiss radio and German radio and relayed for a week in the Swiss media, i.e. the resignation of the Bührle committee on October 13. This independent scientific body made up of seven eminent Swiss members (research specialists and university professors) was formed in November 2022 to support a new presentation of the Bührle collection at the Kunsthaus Zurich.

From the opening of the new wing of the Zurich art museum in autumn 2021, the permanent presentation on its walls of masterpieces from the Bührle Foundation, the collection of modern and impressionist art from the arms manufacturer Emil Bührle (1890-1956), had attracted a lot of criticism, mainly targeting the lack of critical contextualization of a collection constituted during the Second World War and of a patron figure of German origin close to Nazi circles. Incomplete provenance research on the paintings exhibited was also brought to light in the months following the inauguration of the permanent exhibition, sparking indignation.

In a short letter of resignation, the seven members of the scientific committee who unanimously distanced themselves criticized the Kunsthaus mainly for two facts: on the one hand the “cosmetic” nature of the committee (in particular the fact that the texts of the new exhibition would have been transmitted much too late to be reread, making careful editing difficult) and on the other hand the orientation of the new presentation (still too focused on the personality of Bührle giving “the impression that the fate of the victims of the Nazi regime is once again marginalized”).

This resignation, which constitutes a new twist in the already eventful history of this collection, comes at a key moment: on Friday, November 3, the revamped exhibition of works from the Bührle Foundation at the Kunsthaus is due to be unveiled to the public. Entitled “A future for the past. Bührle Collection: art, context, war and conflict”, the exhibition, not yet inaugurated, already carries a scent of controversy.

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