The Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, the main venue for Documenta (photo by Martin aka Maha/Flickr)

The Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, the main venue for Documenta (photo by Martin aka Maha/Flickr)

Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk wants to show the collection of late art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt as part of the quinquennial exhibition’s next edition in 2017. Szymczyk told Süddeutsche Zeitung that he had a “constructive meeting with Matthias Frehner,” the director of Kunstmuseum Bern, to which Gurlitt bequeathed his collection. However, the museum’s board of trustees “did not share this interest,” Szymczyk said.

The Gurlitt collection includes works by Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Otto Dix, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Käthe Kollwitz, Rembrandt, Whistler, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin, and many, many others. Its value has been estimated at €1 billion (~$1.08 billion). Most of it was assembled by the Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius’s father, and many pieces are suspected of having been seized by the Nazis or sold to them under duress.

Szymczyk says he has approached Monika Grütters, Germany’s federal commissioner for culture and media, about displaying the Gurlitt collection in Kassel, and was told that the works could only be exhibited “for the purpose of informing about the history of persecution of the original owners,” according to the Art Newspaper. The curator envisions showing “the whole of the estate in a quiet way, almost neutral, perhaps only in chronological order.”

The lion’s share of the hoard, more than 1,200 pieces, was found in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment during a March 2012 tax evasion investigation, though news of the find was only made public in November 2013. More works were recovered from his home in Salzburg in February 2014. When he died he left the collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern, the Swiss capital’s fine arts museum, which eventually accepted the gift, though a lawsuit filed by a cousin of Gurlitt’s has prevented the institution from taking possession of the works. Nevertheless, a page on the museum’s website devoted to “The Gurlitt Collection” has information about the artworks and extensive, illustrated checklists.

Documenta 14, which will take place in Kassel and Athens, is due to open on June 10, 2017, leaving Szymczyk just over two years to change the Kunstmuseum Bern trustees’ minds.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...