Here at The Post, the critical response to the new George Clooney-directed film “The Monuments Men” has been mixed, inspiring a halfhearted embrace from reviewer Ann Hornaday and outright loathing from art critic Philip Kennicott. The fact-based drama was inspired by the World War II exploits of a group of art experts recruited by the Allies under the banner of the military’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section to rescue art treasures from the Nazis. Whether you love it or hate it, the movie may be intriguing enough in its details to inspire curiosity about the real-life Monuments Men, as these art nerds in uniform became known.
A good place to learn more is the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery, where the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art is displaying a collection of photographs, letters and other documents laying out what AAA director Kate Haw calls “the story behind the story.” In conjunction with other Monuments Men-themed programming at the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives, the exhibition “Monuments Men: On the Frontline to Save Europe’s Art, 1942-1946” offers a fascinating glimpse of the history that inspired Hollywood. According to Haw, Clooney’s production team visited the Smithsonian’s archives to study some of the very material that is in this show.