Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Oklahoma House Committee Pissarro Hearing: Mike Reynolds Opening Statement

The Oklahoma House Conference Committee on Government Modernization and Accountability met today to discuss the painting "La Bergere" by Camille Pissarro, which currently resides in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, OK, where it was bequeathed to the University of Oklahoma Foundation by Clara Weitzenhoffer's estate in 2000. The coversation was spirited and informative.

Rep. Mike Reynolds kicked off the proceedings with the following opening statement:

Mike Reynolds Opening Statement

Good morning.

I think it’s fair to say that this is no ordinary committee hearing, ladies and gentlemen.

We’re here this morning to understand how a stolen artwork ended up in the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Museum, all the way from Paris under German occupation in 1941.

What we hear about today has implications not just for our state and our financial duty, but also on the world stage.

The recent news story of the 1200 paintings discovered in Germany, many of which are Nazi-era plundered artworks, has made headlines everywhere. The scale of the looting by Nazi Germany hasn’t been seen since Ancient Rome. We’re still living with the consequences of those crimes, seven decades later, here in our home state, which frankly I consider an embarrassment to the State of Oklahoma.

The case we’re about to hear about is that important.

The story of this painting has echoes all over the world right now. At issue is whether or not people who own a piece of property can trust that title to that property will be honored anywhere, under the rule of law.

We take as our guidance the Constitution and the law, which guarantees that you can trust the value of the title of the property you own.

Moreover, as elected representatives of the state of Oklahoma, we have a fiduciary responsibility to see that not only are state funds honorably spent but that property held within our jurisdiction isn’t stolen, however acquired.

That means that today is, underneath it all, about trust.

Trust that the people of Oklahoma know their museums aren’t safe havens for stolen art.

Trust that the governance of our universities and museums hasn’t been shortchanged: that those empowered to do their duty are in fact doing their duty before the law.

Trust that people of Oklahoma have invested in us as their representatives, to see our tax dollars spent wisely and that the standard of due process has been met—in every respect.

So why the difference of opinion over what’s stolen and what isn’t?

Some people believe a piece of stolen art isn’t like a stolen car ---an open and shut case.

If the pickup in your driveway comes up stolen, you’re facing criminal charges if you don’t return it. It doesn’t belong to you and due process demands the right owner get the property back.

Here’s my bottom line: why is a piece of art that everybody agrees was stolen in 1941 any less stolen today?

I think we all want to know why—and what the role of the lawmakers, administrators and museum staff in our state has been In this case.

So let’s find out. To assist us today, we have 3 speakers:

Pierre Ciric is a French-born New York attorney representing the plaintiff, Léone Meyer, we also have Raphael Meyer, who is the son of Léone Meyer and representing Léone here today, and we have Marc Masurovsky, a historian, researcher, and advocate, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution project, an advocacy group specialized in the research of looted artworks during World War II and the Holocaust.

Mr. Ciric?