Advisory Panel Resigns Over Controversial Bührle Exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich 

A panel of scholars assembled to advise the prestigious Kunsthaus Zürich over its upcoming exhibition of the Nazi-linked Bührle collection has dissolved after its members resigned, the museum said in a statement. Leadership at the Swiss institution said curators and advisers could not reach a resolution on how to proceed with detailing historical context related to the collection’s origins.

The show, which is scheduled to open on November 3, centers the collection of Emil Georg Bührle, a German-Swiss industrialist and manufacturer who amassed his wealth in arms sales to the Nazi regime. Bührle, a former trustee of the Swiss museum, made his art collection from works taken from Jewish collectors under duress.

Museum director Anne Demeester said the advisory panel dissolved due to a disagreement with curators on the extent to which the exhibition materials should include the original Jewish owners. As a result, the panel’s advisors collectively resigned on October 13.

In 2021, when plans for the exhibition were first announced, more than 2,000 petitioners called on city officials of Zurich for transparency around the museum’s presentation of the Bührle collection and its controversial history. It came more than a decade after the Kunsthaus agreed to a 20-year loan contract with the Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection, an entity overseeing the arms dealer’s estate, to showcase 200 works from the collection. The initiative aimed to bring more traffic to the Swiss museum as the city competes with Basel as a cultural hub.

The foundation was established by the manufacturer’s descendants and oversees a collection of works by artists including Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir and van Gogh.

In 2021, a petition called for Zurich officials, who partially fund the museum, to conduct an in-depth review of provenance research related to the collection. It also called for information related to the arms dealer’s use of slave labor to run his manufacturing business to be included in the exhibition. The controversy surrounding the announcement of the exhibition overshadowed the museum’s re-opening that year after a high-profile renovation.

Critics of the Swiss museum’s choice to stage a Bührle show include Matthieu Leimgruber, a professor at Zurich University and one of the advisory panel’s member.

Demeester, who assumed her position overseeing the Zurich museum in January 2023, added that further context around the dispute between curators and the advisory panel will be detailed in a press conference on November 2. She had previously pledged to bring context around the former owners of works in the collection for the forthcoming exhibition’s display.

“I regret we did not find a consensus on the concrete implementation,” she said in the statement.