“Exiles and Emigres: The Flight of European Artists From Hitler,” the major exhibition that opened Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, had a big price tag: more than $1 million. That presented the museum and curator Stephanie Barron with a daunting fund-raising challenge, but the show had a lot going for it.
Barron has an unusually strong track record for organizing innovative, well-researched projects that place art in a rich social, political and historical context and appeal to a broad audience. Furthermore, “Exiles and Emigres,” which includes both art and documentation about the plight of artists who were forced out of their homelands during World War II, is a sequel to “Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany,” an enormously successful exhibition organized by Barron and presented at LACMA in 1991.
But when appeals for funds went out, not a single American corporation agreed to contribute. Apparently the subject matter is too tough for the business sector, which typically avoids any association with arts projects that have political overtones.
Fortunately for the museum, necessary funds were secured from other sources: agencies of the United States and German governments, individual donors and foundations established by two prominent Hollywood personalities, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and actress Sharon Stone.
Spielberg’s nonprofit charitable organization, the Righteous Persons Foundation--funded by profits from his Oscar-winning movie “Schindler’s List,” based on the story of a German industrialist who saved many Jews from extinction by the Nazis--contributed $100,000 to the exhibition.
“We decided to support the project in part because of the artists shown, but also because this exhibition puts the artists in a social and historical context,” said Rachel Levin, the foundation’s program officer.
“The foundation is committed to education, and the arts are an important vehicle for education, not only regarding issues involving Nazi Germany but other regimes that are intolerant. So we were really thrilled to make this grant.”
Although the Righteous Persons Foundation is best known for supporting Jewish seminaries and synagogues, Levin said the fact that Spielberg lives in Los Angeles and has supported arts projects related to Jewish topics made LACMA’s project particularly appealing.
Stone indicated that the exhibition’s subject matter persuaded her to support “Exiles and Emigres” through her nonprofit charitable organization, the Silent Foundation for the Arts.
Responding to queries through an assistant, Stone said: “World War II is not that long ago, and it is important to me that our cultural heritage be treasured and experienced.” Stone said she had contributed “more than I can afford” but declined to reveal the amount.
Spielberg’s and Stone’s foundations were not the largest contributors to the show. Topping the list is a $225,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, followed by funds in undisclosed sums from the Hamburg-based scholarly foundation Die ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius and Helen and Peter Bing. Next in line is the $100,000 grant from the Righteous Persons Foundation, followed by $80,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, and grants in progressively smaller, undesignated amounts from Stone’s Silent Foundation for the Arts, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, and Villa Aurora, a foundation for European American relations. One German corporation, Daimler-Benz North America, is among additional donors.
The exhibition received an indemnity from the U.S. Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and additional assistance from the government of the Federal Republic of Germany. International passenger and cargo transportation was provided by Lufthansa German Airlines.