The Nazi Artist Making Machine | Culture


Goebbels had the last word in Berlin. After the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, to be an artist the law required membership in the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts. The admission process required: firstly, proof of the Aryan origin of up to two generations of the applicant, including his spouse, with a request for anthropological reports in case of doubt; second, an artistic trajectory consistent with the aesthetics of Nazism; lastly, political reliability. The file was sent to the central in Berlin, under the Propaganda Ministry of Joseph Goebbels, which issued the ruling. The problem for the rejected, more than a truncated artistic career, was the Gestapo.

The contents of the files of 3,000 artists active during the Nazi regime in Vienna are now revealed for the first time. They remained in storage, like many works of art of the time, waiting for someone to spend their time examining them. For four years the researchers Ingrid Holzschuh and Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber did it, exhibiting their results at the Wien Museum under the title Auf Linie. NS Kuntspolitik in Wien (“Through the hoop. National Socialist politics in Vienna”).

The exhibition shows cases like that of the painter Erwin Lang, considered by the racial laws “half Jewish”. His father’s Hebrew origin immediately ruled out his membership, but he had influential friends. The Third Reich was methodical and bureaucratic, and as corrupt as in an Austrian Billy Wilder comedy. In the film One two Three The character of James Cagney, head of a Coca-Cola plant, struggles to groom his boss’s recent son-in-law, a dogmatic young communist from East Berlin, and bribes an earl into assuming paternity. The painter Lang, after the direct intervention of Goebbels, was found for a new father, Count Eugen Kinsky, and his new affiliation was recognized both by the fearsome Gestapo and by the Center for Research on Race. He entered with the number 27,713.

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Painting by Igo Pötsch illustrating the Führer's path to the proclamation of the Anschluss on March 15, 1938.
Painting by Igo Pötsch illustrating the Führer’s path to the proclamation of the Anschluss on March 15, 1938.Paul Bauer

Or the case of the painter and sculptor Elisabeth Turolt, who in 1938 was rejected and threatened by the Speaker of the House for being married to a Jewish gynecologist, and in 1942, already divorced – her husband had fled to New York -, was Aryan again, and artist, and your application was approved without a hitch.

The Chamber, directed by an elite of artists who were already Nazis when being a Nazi was illegal in Austria, settled in Vienna in the Künstlerhaus (current headquarters of the Albertina Modern, specialized in contemporary art, one of the great promoters of the post-degenerate avant-garde) . The historicist building sported in March 1938 a succession of banners with swastika and a And and and in the archery. It looks like the onomatopoeia of Nazi laughter during the Anschluss, but and means ‘yes’ in German. A referendum had been called to bless the Nazi occupation and the institution urged to vote in favor.

In a meeting with Goebbels, Hitler drew up a list of indispensable artists, the Gottbegnadeten (endowed with the grace of God), in which 18 Austrians stood out. One of them was the painter Rudolf H. Eisenmenger, a devout Nazi, president of the Künstlerhaus throughout World War II. He was amnestied in the postwar period, they were troubled times, and shortly after he was commissioned to design the metal fire curtain for the Vienna Opera. In 1998 the institution began a highly celebrated tradition that consists of commissioning a contemporary artist each season to decorate the curtain at the mouth of the stage. Thus, with originality and magnets, Eisenmenger’s 176-square-meter work is hidden today.

In addition to the files, the exhibition displays Nazi art. The aesthetics of the exhibition recreates a warehouse, with the pieces attached to railings or displayed on trestles and in their wooden packaging under a supermarket light. “We are faced with the question of how to display Nazi propaganda art. We decided to present it as it is preserved in the museum’s warehouse ”, says historian Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber between tapestries with swastikas and Igo Pötsch’s canvas from 1940 in which Hitler, before a crowd with his arm raised, addresses in his Mercedes convertible to proclaim the Anschluss from a balcony.

Two soup plates that can be seen in the exhibition.
Two soup plates that can be seen in the exhibition.Wine Museum

For sentimental reasons, the Führer preferred Linz to the Austrian capital, but the resentment over the double rejection of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts of his admission to dedicate himself to painting 30 years earlier had disappeared. The city was destined to be the fashion capital of the Third Reich, heavily invested in the “taste industry,” and designers and dressmakers had to pass the House filter as well. Since 1940, the new governor, Baldur von Schirach – grandfather of the best-selling writer Ferdinand von Schirach – aspired to turn the city into a benchmark of high culture while declaring it free of Jews, clean of Jews. He collected looted and Aryan art and spent nights at the opera while ensuring, always well dressed, that Jewish artists who had not gone into exile were in concentration camps.

In a cart of the museum, a huge panel in foam cardboard shows the list of artists who worked in Vienna and were forced into exile, persecuted or murdered in death camps. “This is not an exhibition about exile”, Plakolm-Forsthuber clarifies, “we would not have enough space in these rooms”.

Nazi art on the street

In the central Faulmanngasse, on a corner occupied by a vegan burger joint, if you look at the Vienna sky you can read a Nazi slogan: “There is only one nobility, the nobility of work”. It was a recognizable Hitler adage, and artist Franz Kralicek immortalized it in Gothic typeface on the facade of a block of flats more than 80 years ago. He adorned it with a huge relief that looks intact, with the figures of a worker, a peasant and a scientist. It is one step away from the Secession pavilion, headquarters of the breakthrough movement led by Gustav Klimt who, in 1937, already with a new president, anticipated the Anschluss a year by programming a Nazi exhibition and rejecting a retrospective on the degenerate Oskar Kokoschka.

Kralicek’s work is a clear example of the occupation of public space by the art of Nazi propaganda. There are more scattered around the city, some intelligently intervened. The terracotta warrior by sculptor Alfred Crepaz installed in 1939 on a facade of the 9th district next to another Hitler quote has been deconstructed by the artist Maria Theresia Litschauer since 2010. She painted it with white brackets.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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