George Clooney Caper Spawns Museum Exhibitions

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The upcoming George Clooney-directed film “The Monuments Men,” which recounts the efforts of the same-named platoon of soldiers that, during World War II, sought to track down the many invaluable artworks seized by the Nazis, has inspired at least a couple of American museums to mount exhibitions related to the exploits of the unit chronicled in the star-studded movie. This exceptional chapter in recent art history will be the subject of a new permanent installation at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans,  a historical display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City — whose first two directors were Monuments Men alumni — and a temporary exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (AAA).

The Nelson-Atkins Museum will mount a small exhibition of manuscripts, postcards, newspaper clippings, and biographies about the six Monuments Men whom U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched to recover Nazi-looted art and who then came to work at the museum, including its first and second directors, Paul Gardner and Laurence Sickman, respectively. It should be ready in time for the film’s opening, on February 7, the Kansas City Star reports. MacKenzie Mallon, a curator in the Nelson-Atkins’ department of European painting and sculpture, has written a handy history of the institution’s place in the Monuments Men story.

According to the New York Times, the WWII Museum plans to open a new permanent exhibition devoted to the Monuments Men in 2016, which will chronicle their recovery of works by Old Master artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as Modernists like Pablo Picasso, plus the ongoing campaigns to track down pieces by Raphael, Michelangelo, and more. The display will be housed in the institution’s under-construction Liberty Pavilion, which will be devoted to the closing months of the war and the immediate post-war period. The Clooney film is based on “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” a book by Robert Edsel, a member of the WWII Museum’s board of trustees since 2010.

“The story of what these men and women contributed has finally seen the light of day due to Robert Edsel’s tireless efforts,” WWII Museum president and CEO Gordon Mueller said in a statement. “It is only fitting that this story has a permanent place in the Liberation Pavilion to illustrate that Allied Victory meant the liberation of the art of Western civilization as well as of people and nations. Future generations will continue to benefit from the work of the Monuments Men.”

In the much-nearer future, and actually timed to coincide with the film’s release, the AAA will open “Monuments Men: On the Frontline to Save Europe’s Art, 1942-1946″ on the same day the film hits North American movie theaters, February 7. The show will focus on the work of the members of the Allied forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives initiative.

— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Photo via Monuments Men/Facebook.)