Актуальные проблемы теории и истории искусства

ИЕССЕ ДАРЬЯ (Берлинская высшая техническая школа, Германия). «… Дать полную и справедливую оценку нацистскому характеру, духу и временам». Работа с немецким военным искусством в послевоенный период

DARJA JESSE (Technical University of Berlin, Germany).“…Making a Full and Just Estimate of the Nazi Character, Spirit and Times.” Dealing with German War Art in the Post-War Period

For a long time, art history in Germany avoided dealing with art that was created between 1933 and 1945 and supported by the regime. This art was characterized as propaganda or non-art and was therefore not considered an object of art history. In recent years, however, several exhibitions have shown in a critical approach that this dichotomy — the good arts on the one hand, the bad arts on the other — is no longer acceptable. This art is much more complex — especially if one examines not only its production but also its reception.

My report deals with the American zone of occupation in Germany after World War II and analyses how the USA dealt with art from the National Socialist era. The subject of my research is the German War Art Collection (GWAC) — around 8.300 artworks that were confiscated in Germany by the U.S. Army and brought to the USA in 1947. The artworks had been commissioned mainly by the Wehrmacht during the war.

The aim of this project was —at least this was repeatedly emphasized in documents —  to implement the Potsdam Agreement of August 2, 1945, which required “to prevent all Nazi and militarist activity or propaganda.” Captain Gordon W. Gilkey, who had been charged with the GWAC, concluded his report with these words: “If it had been left in Germany, it would have been a potential threat to the world through its future reinstallation and German misuse.”

While there was no interest in this collection in the following decades in Germany, in the USA numerous works were used to decorate the offices of the U.S. Army and single artists received recognition for their work. The artworks had been confiscated in order to eliminate the visual propaganda of the National Socialism, but many of them were recognized shortly after as valuable military paintings. This may be surprising, but a closer examination of the collection reveals the heterogeneity of the works: Alongside some martial and war-glorifying paintings, there are numerous rather reserved battle scenes, seascapes and landscapes. They met the taste of the military personnel.

Not only the motifs of the artworks were heterogeneous, but also the artists, who were diverse in their education, political beliefs and artistic quality. Some of them were prominent artists supported by the regime, while others were rather unknown.

Today, most of GWAC’s artworks (approx. 8,000 objects) are part of the Deutsches Historisches Museum’s (German Historical Museum) collections in Berlin. Around 500 artworks are still kept in the USA.

In my talk I will discuss this ambiguous history of the German War Art Collection. This art does not belong to the art-historical canon, but as part of the visual history and cultural heritage, I will discuss it in a broader context of “difficult heritage” (Sharon Macdonald).

 национал-социализм, тяжелое наследие

National Socialism, difficult heritage