Vienna faces its Nazi history in art exhibition

An exhibition of works of art from Nazi-era Vienna exhibits art policy under the German Reich with the aim of helping the Austrian capital come to terms with its WWII legacy.

Exhibited at the Vienna Museum, the art exhibition “Auf Linie“, Or” Vienna Falls in Line – the Politics of Art under National Socialism “, is the result of four years of research on 3,000 artists under the Nazi regime.

Commissioners Ingrid Holzschuh and Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber have undertaken this effort to reconcile Austria, a country which sees itself as a victim of Nazi Germany, with its dark past.

Following the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, known as “Anschluss”, more than 65,000 people of Austria’s Jewish population were killed, making the country an accomplice in the Holocaust.

“Since the end of the 1980s, a great change of mood has taken place … a great process of reflection has taken place,” said historian Gerhard Baumgartner, director of the Austrian Resistance Documentation Center.

For the curators of the exhibition, examining the art of Austria under Nazi Germany is part of this process of reflection. (AFP)

“There is a great need to come to terms with history. There are still many gaps, and these gaps must be filled,” said conservative Holzschuh.

The exhibition provides insight into cultural aspects of the Reich by showcasing paintings, sculptures, pottery and even textiles, as well as biographical details about the pro-Nazi artists behind the works of art.

“It can’t be like other exhibitions in the classic sense of the word… it had to be dismantled,” Holzschuh added.

The exhibition of works from the Nazi era is confined to two rooms of the Vienna Museum, unlike the other works that the museum displays on its large walls.

The exhibition of works from the Nazi era is confined to two rooms of the Vienna Museum, unlike the other works that the museum displays on its large walls. (AFP)

Following the annexation of Austria, the Nazi regime intervened in the country’s cultural affairs in accordance with the Gleichschaltung (Nazification) process.

The regime forcibly dissolved Austrian art associations and brought together all artistic activities under the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, which was a branch of the Reich Chamber of Culture.

Membership in the chamber was an obligation for artists to resume their work professionally.

The curators drew on the membership records of approximately 3,000 artists to prepare the exhibition, which “provides insight into the political power structures, processes, networks and artistic attitudes of the Nazi regime, actors and of their works of art, ”according to the museum. .

The exhibition presents the municipality of Vienna under the German Reich as

The exhibition presents the municipality of Vienna under the German Reich as “an important patron of Nazi art”. (AFP)

According to conservative research, the Nazi regime closely monitored artists, verifying their compliance with the regime.

“The Nazi regime took control of the art world and ruled it in accordance with its ideological and racist vision,” according to the exhibition catalog.

As for the internal functioning of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, “aspiring members had to meet the artistic, political and racial criteria of the Nazi regime.”

Jewish political dissidents and artists, as well as artists whom the regime considered “too avant-garde” were not allowed to become members, and therefore to practice their art.

The artists accused of not respecting the regime were forced to flee or ended up in concentration camps where they were murdered.

The artists accused of not respecting the regime were forced to flee or ended up in concentration camps where they were murdered. (AFP)

Another goal of the curators was to reveal how artists such as sculptor Wilhelm Frass, who had asserted his loyalty to the German Reich, continued to be influential even after World War II.

Frass himself not only continued his work after the war, but even had his works commissioned by the city of Vienna.

The search for curators for the exhibition was built on a 300-page catalog.

The search for curators for the exhibition was built on a 300-page catalog. (AFP)

The “Auf Linie” exhibition opened on October 14, 2021 and will run until April 14, 2022. According to Vienna Museum spokesperson Konstanze Schaefer, it has already aroused “great interest”.

However, the exhibition of Nazi artwork is not free. The museum was criticized by an Austrian daily, Kurier, for spending a fortune on Nazi art.

However, City Councilor Veronica Kaup-Hasler agrees with the museum’s goal of exhibiting and reconciling with the past, saying that “a culture of remembrance and dealing with one’s own history plays an important role in the city’s cultural policy “.

Commissioners Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber (L) and Ingrid Holzschuh (R).  Behind them, a painting of the Vienna opera house adorned with Nazi flags and a tapestry depicting a swastika.

Commissioners Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber (L) and Ingrid Holzschuh (R). Behind them, a painting of the Vienna opera house adorned with Nazi flags and a tapestry depicting a swastika. (AFP)

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

James C. Tibbs