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Culture

Berlin Gallery To House Controversial Art Collection

Art collected by the heir of a Nazi-era arms supplier will be shown in Berlin from 2004. But plans to display the works in Switzerland failed following sharp protests.

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Billionaire Friedrich-Christian Flick has found a home for his art collection

The Friedrich-Christian Flick Collection is one of the world's biggest private holdings of contemporary art. From 2004 onward, the over 2,000 work collection will be shown in its entirety in Berlin for the first time ever.

The decision came after months of negotiations between Flick and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the administrative body that runs Berlin's state museums. The move follows a failed effort to exhibit the collection in Zurich.

The Jewish community and cultural organizations had blocked Flick’s plans to build a special museum for his collection in Zurich designed by star Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Critics opposed the exhibit because much of the collection was purchased with the fortune amassed by the Flicks under the Nazis.

Facing the past

Flick's grandfather, Friedrich Flick, was one of Adolf Hitler's largest arms manufacturers and helped fuel Nazi Germany's war machine.

Following World War II, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes including the use of slave labor in his factories and cooperating with the Nazis. He was pardoned in 1950.

Friedrich-Christian Flick has also been criticized for refusing to contribute to the fund set up by German industry and the federal government to compensate those forced to work for the Nazis. But the wealthy collector has said he doesn't see how he can be guilty of something which he didn't do.

Instead, Flick has referred to his "Foundation against xenophobia, racism and intolerance."

At a press conference on Thursday announcing the deal, Flick stressed that he was not avoiding the criticism of his family history. He said he had faced up to it. This past was one of the reasons he acquired critical works, such as those by Bruce Nauman, for his collection, Flick said.

Taking art hostage

Berlin's Culture Minister, Christina Weiss, said she understood that Flick had to "put up with" questions regarding his family's past. But she added that she didn't understand how a tie could be made between the Nazi era and a collection of contemporary art.

"How can one attempt to take art hostage and condemn it to disrespect?" Weiss asked the assembled journalists. Neither the artists nor their works deserved this, she said.

The Friedrich-Christian Flick collection includes works by some 150 artists, including Bruce Nauman, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Kurt Schwitters, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Richard Serra, On Kawara und Nam June Paik.

The collection will be displayed at the Rieck-Halle Gallery next to Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art for an initial period of seven years. Flick will finance the elaborate modifications necessary to the building.