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NAZIS

France to track down owners of WWII stolen art

France vowed on Monday to step up efforts to return works of art stolen from Jews by the Nazis to the families of their rightful owners.

The pledge came on the eve of an official ceremony at which six 18th-century paintings will be returned to the descendants of Vienna-based industrialist Richard Neumann and another 17th-century work handed over to the family of Josef Wiener, a Prague banker who perished in the holocaust.

An estimated 2,000 works of art are currently held in trust by France's state museums pending identification of their owners.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said France would be taking a more active approach to identifying the rightful owners.

"Until now we have waited for inheritors or relatives to trigger research procedures," Filippetti said. "I want to introduce a more proactive approach under which France will seek the owners whether or not a formal request has been made."

American Thomas Selldorff will on Tuesday reclaim six German and Italian paintings that his grandfather, Neumann, was forced to sell in 1941 to raise the funds he needed to secure safe passage to Spain and then Cuba from Paris, where he had fled to from Vienna.

The paintings ended up in the hands of the Nazis, who had planned to transfer them to a museum that Adolf Hitler envisaged opening in his home town of Linz. After the end of the war, they were placed in museums around France, three of them in the Louvre.

The seventh painting that will be handed over on Tuesday is a work, "The Stop" by Dutch painter Pieter-Jansz van Asch (1603-1678) which was confiscated by the Nazis from Wiener.

At the end of the war, the victorious allied powers generally sent paintings back to their countries of origin: the van Asch work was sent to France, rather than the Netherlands, by mistake.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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