About Body Missing

The story is a familiar one. I think you know it well. How Hitler and key cohorts of the Nazi regime took works of art from public and private collections throughout Europe, by any means possible, including theft and forced sale. The best of these were destined for the proposed Museum in Linz, and stored for that purpose in the nearby salt mines at Alt Aussee.

And perhaps you remember as well, how Eigruber, the Nazi functionary in charge of the Linz area, gave the order that bombs be placed inside the mines, and set off before the Allies could enter; how the miners (and eventually so many others) took credit for sabotaging this plan and saving the art; how among the first officials who arrived during the liberation of Europe, sometimes preceding all others, were the art experts, how it was their task to find the secret hiding places, recover and restore and document the artworks, and begin the process of returning them to their rightful owners.

Though the salt mines were not in the end bombed from within as planned, it was difficult in the confusion to determine what had been the actual contents of the storage chambers.

When the Transit Bar was installed at the Offenes Kulturhaus in Linz and became a hang-out for the artists who exhibited upstairs, the conversations turned sometimes to the unanswered questions surrounding the missing art. Slowly, regulars at the bar began to appear with lists, photographs, reports, discovered by one means or another, often contradictory, and tried to do what their counterparts 50 years earlier had already attempted: to determine which were the works first stored at Alt Aussee for the Führermuseum, and which had somehow disappeared.

In an extended climate of not-knowing, it's easy for talk to drift towards particular works, whether destined for Linz or not, and for somebody to say, "I've always been curious about the missing Canalettos." Or for someone else to shake her head, and regret the disappearance of a certain Courbet known by name only, no one remembering ever having seen the image itself. One woman feels she can almost see the lost preparatory drawing for a Tintoretto painting that has survived only in photographs. Someone new to the table stresses the generic nature of loss and has no special longing for the recovery of this painting or that. "It's all crazy," he says, "It was then, and it is now."

Yet, one by one the artists find themselves drawn to certain works and as if by itself a plan evolves to reconstruct these.

These would be no ordinary imitative reconstructions, however. No, that would be of no interest at all. The plan that emerged was to realize personal visual links between present studio practice and particular lost works; a gesture.

The Transit Bar is gone now. Another outfit took over the old basement space a few weeks ago. It's now a vegetarian restaurant again, reasonably priced, with a noisy crowd on weekends. But in the rooms, stairwells and corridors above and underneath, a steady activity continues.

Some artists are working anonymously, and have asked that their privacy be respected. Others are willing to include the viewer in the investigative process and are here now:
Joanna Jones, Alice Mansell, Mickey Meads, Bernie Miller, Piotr Nathan, Daniel Olson, Jeanne Randolph, Michel Daigneault, and Stephen Schofield, Judith Schwarz, Betty Spackman and Anja Westerfrölke You can reach their workspaces through their favourite Stammtisch in the bar.

An Invitation:

Accounts of the impact of the art theft practices of the Third Reich are contradictory. Some works thought to have been lost forever are emerging again in the world's best museums and auction houses. If it is difficult to distinguish between what is truly lost and what has simply been hidden from view, between what has been stolen and what has somehow found its way into public or private collections under a different name or provenance, the meaning of these absences will continue to shift. If these matters interest you, and you would like to contribute to the discussion in words or images, send us a note at artworks@yorku.ca.

The Transit Bar was first built in Kassel for documenta 9, 1992, and reconstructed at the Power Plant Art Gallery, Toronto, in 1994 and at the National Gallery of Canada in 1996, before being toured by Rijksutställningar through Scandinavia and Poland in 19997-98. Between these events the Bar provided a point of departure for Body Missing, the investigation initiated by Vera Frenkel in Linz into the events surrounding the planned Hitlermuseum there.