On the challenge of Nazi art

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Date: Summer 2017
From: The German Quarterly(Vol. 90, Issue 3)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Essay
Length: 3,230 words
Lexile Measure: 1150L

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Given both the modernist priorities of the discipline and the expectation that one loves what one studies, art historians have long been loathe to commit their time, energy, and reputations to the art permitted or promoted by National Socialism's genocidal dictatorship. Those who have done research on it have thus been, and remain, few and far between. Nonetheless, a sizeable scholarly literature has developed since the first pioneering studies appeared in the 1960s and early 1970s, and in the last decade a number of remarkable studies have been published on a wide range of topics, but all with a characteristic interest in the ideological qualities and political functions ot art, architecture, and media images. Anthologies such as 1938. Kunst, Kunstler, Politik (ed. Eva Atlan, Raphael Gross, and Julia Voss for an exhibition at the Judisches Museum in Frankfurt/Main) and Kunstler im Nationalsozialismus (ed. Wolfgang Ruppert) continue the tradition of analyzing official National Socialist artistic culture using the methods of institutional history and ideology critique. Ines Schlenker's Hitlers Salon provides an empirical account of the Great German Art Exhibitions in Munich from 1937 to 1944. (Since 2011, another vital source of information on them is the database "GDK Research,"developed by the Zentralinstitut fur Kunstgeschichte in Munich.) Despina Stratigakos's Hitler at Home and Karen Fiss's Grand Illusion examine the Nazi regime's instrumentalization of architecture and the mass media to shape public opinion domestically and internationally. In Through Amateur Eyes and Images In Spite of All, Frances Guerin and Georges Didi-Huberman move away from well-known, even iconic official images by the likes of Heinrich Hoffmann and Leni Riefenstahl to the amateur visual culture produced by soldiers, bystanders, resistance fighters, and death-camp prisoners in order to reflect on the photographic construction of memory and representation of the Holocaust. Paul Jaskot's The Nazi Perpetrator ties the work of Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, and Daniel Libeskind to post-war conservative and right-wing German politics. Art of Suppression, a new interdisciplinary study by Pamela Potter, analyzes shifts in musicological, theater-historical, and art-historical historiography since 1945.

When it comes to the relationship between early-twentieth-century modernism and National Socialism in particular, one of the most important recent publications is the catalogue of the exhibition on the 1937 exhibition "Degenerate Art," organized in 2014 by the art historian Olaf Peters at the Neue Galerie in New York. This project was built on the long-standing art-historical fixation on the spectacular original event, which, as the art historian Georg Buftmann once noted, had taken on the character of a "useful myth." "Degenerate Art," in his view, was no longer only a powerful historical manifestation of the tensions that had riven the German art world since the emergence of modernist elites in the 1890s and at the same time a sign of the triumph of the most extreme anti-modernists over rival factions within the NSDAP. Since 1945, he suggested, the opposition of modernism and "Nazi Art" had blinded people to difficult questions of partial identification, opportunistic decisions, and complicity. It helped make the modernist...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A501078244