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07/29/2006

A History Lesson

                     Hitler's Favorite Sculptor Stirs Debate, Antipathy

Arno_breker_hitler_speer_paris_1 Hitler's favorite sculptor Arno Breker, the creator of monumental statues glorifying the Third Reich, is stirring debate with the first retrospective of his work in a German public museum since World War II.

It's perhaps not surprising that his art -- or what survives -- has mainly been stashed away in museum vaults. Described by Hitler as ``the best sculptor of our time,'' Breker modeled Ubermensch heroes incorporating Aryan ideals and made busts of Nazi leaders including Hitler and Goebbels. He designed outsized sculptures for ``Germania,'' Hitler's megalomaniac vision of a vast new Berlin to be built by Albert Speer. Like Germania, most of the statues never made it into stone.

The Schleswig-Holstein-Haus in Schwerin, the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is exhibiting about 70 works owned by Breker's widow. Rudolf Conrades, the curator, says his goal was to provoke a discussion about Breker, who died in 1991, and break the taboo surrounding his art.

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   The re-emergence of Breker's art at this time speaks volumes about the world. Few people are reading between the lines. There's just a handful of words we need heed today ...

                    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.                                                                                            - George Santayana

             Hitler_reichstag

             Zionsm_ahmadinejad_hitler_speech

             Hitler's Favorite Sculptor Stirs Debate, Antipathy

by Catherine Hickley

Hitler's favorite sculptor Arno Breker, the creator of monumental statues glorifying the Third Reich, is stirring debate with the first retrospective of his work in a German public museum since World War II.

It's perhaps not surprising that his art -- or what survives -- has mainly been stashed away in museum vaults. Described by Hitler as ``the best sculptor of our time,'' Breker modeled Ubermensch heroes incorporating Aryan ideals and made busts of Nazi leaders including Hitler and Goebbels. He designed outsized sculptures for ``Germania,'' Hitler's megalomaniac vision of a vast new Berlin to be built by Albert Speer. Like Germania, most of the statues never made it into stone.

The Schleswig-Holstein-Haus in Schwerin, the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is exhibiting about 70 works owned by Breker's widow. Rudolf Conrades, the curator, says his goal was to provoke a discussion about Breker, who died in 1991, and break the taboo surrounding his art.

He has certainly achieved his first aim. Klaus Staeck, an artist who is president of Berlin's Akademie der Kunste, or Academy of Arts, canceled his own exhibition scheduled for 2007 in the same house, saying that he thought the Breker show was motivated by sensationalism and that he was afraid of an attempt to ``whitewash'' the sculptor. Politicians in Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania voiced concerns that the show may benefit right-wing extremists in a regional election in September.

Olympic Stadium

The exhibition follows a commotion earlier in the year over Breker's statues of muscular Aryan heroes at the Nazi-built Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the venue for the World Cup soccer final. Shortly before the tournament began, activists, including the author Ralph Giordano, demanded their removal. They stayed.

One of the sculptures, ``Die Siegerin'' (``The Victor,'' 1936), is in the Schwerin show: a naked, perfectly proportioned woman with classic though heavy features. She stands with raised forearms, brandishing a laurel branch. She is slightly smaller than life size and neither brutal nor overpowering -- just rather boring, though technically competent.

Yet the Schwerin exhibition is important, fascinating, and overdue. It shows clearly that Breker was not a great artist, yet equally clearly, that whether we like it or not, he occupies a sizeable slot in art history.

Breker lived in Paris from 1927 to 1932, before the Nazis came to power, and associated with contemporaries such as Alberto Giacometti, Paul Belmondo, Alexander Calder, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau, with whom he remained friends for 30 years. He moved to Berlin, after a spell in Rome, in 1934.

Country Estate

Breker came to Hitler's attention in 1936 with his statues for the Olympic Stadium. A member of the Nazi party from 1937, he profited hugely from the regime. Hitler gave him a country estate, Jaeckelsbruch, in 1940, where Breker entertained Speer and other luminaries of the regime. Speer awarded him contracts that added up to the eye-popping sum of 27.4 million Reichsmarks. In his memoirs, Breker quoted Hitler as saying ``My artists should live like princes, not lodge in garrets.''

Breker's statues for the Reichskanzlei (Imperial Chancellery) show how he pandered to Hitler's tastes for classical art and architecture. ``Waeger'' and ``Wager'' (``The Deliberator'' (1938) and ``The Adventurer'' (1939)) are preposterously muscular, square-jawed men. Their sheer size and strength is imposing; their faces, though, are so idealized, they look vacant and dehumanized.

Martial Reliefs

To dismiss Breker's Nazi work as vacuous kitsch would, however, be to ignore something altogether more sinister about it, quite apart from the purpose it served. Martial reliefs he made for Germania's planned triumphal arch, on show in the upstairs rooms of the Schwerin exhibition, are chilling.

With titles like ``Combat,'' ``Destruction'' and ``Revenge,'' they show warrior heroes with contorted facial expressions trampling on enemies and choking horses. These are a celebration of brutality -- absolute evidence, if it were needed, that Breker fully understood the nature of the regime that financed and supported him.

After the war, Breker was labeled a ``Mitlaufer'' (Nazi follower) by the U.S. occupiers and forced to pay a 100-mark fine. His postwar art is so different from his work in the Nazi era that it is difficult to accept it is by the same artist.

Cuddly Ludwig

Breker's busts are exact replicas of the faces of his subjects, yet softened and idealized. A portrait of Ludwig Erhard shows a benign, almost cuddly old man: it is hardly the face of a powerful politician who was the architect of Germany's 1950s ``Wirtschaftswunder,'' or economic miracle. There is no obvious link between this bust and the martial reliefs.

It is that lack of progression in Breker's work that betrays him as a ``Mitlaufer,'' an opportunist. There is no sense of individual artistic development. Instead, you are left with the impression that Breker swayed with the prevailing wind, responding to outside forces rather than any inner calling. It is not only his moral integrity that was sacrificed to the Nazis, but also his artistic integrity.

Hermann Junghans, Schwerin's cultural chief, writes in the foreword of the catalogue that ``Not everyone who likes Breker's art is vulnerable to totalitarian thinking.''

That, of course, is true. To like Breker's art isn't immoral. It may show poor taste, though.  Link

      "Arno Breker'' is showing at the Schleswig-Holstein-Haus in Schwerin through Oct. 22.  Link

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Comments

Who's the guy on the left?

Speer, perhaps?

Theres no such thing as moral or immoral art, only good and bad

"Theres no such thing as moral or immoral art, only good and bad......." DITTO!

Macker ...

Yep, it's Speer.

Kazuya ...

Cannot art be bad for reasons of morality?

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