Monday, April 03, 2017

Raiders of the Lost Nazi Art

“mainstream Modernism has been sealed off from ideological and aesthetic contamination by the Third Reich.”

One of the things that I found interesting while reading Griffin is his approach to the whole subject of Fascism. Unlike many other writers on the subject, Griffin tries to understand the subject of Fascism as the Fascists understood it themselves.  His attempt to understand it in no way condones it and its pretty apparent that Griffin finds the ideals of Fascism repugnant. Still, what I found interesting is Griffins need to defend himself from charges of fascist sympathy or the "normalisation" of it by taking this approach. What became apparent to me is that mainstream academia has preconceived notions of how to "correctly" approach the subject, lest suspicions of fascist sympathy be levied.

It appears that academia, till recently, demanded that Fascism be seen through a certain lens. Trying to understand Fascism as a product of Marxism and Modernism is a definite faux pas, while seeing Fascism as an aberrant evil outside the Modernist vision seems to be emphasised, particularly the notion that Fascism is a form of malignant resurgence of the "Right". The precise definition of the Right being ambiguous since rigorous analysis tends to throw up uncomfortable resemblances. Socialist academia's hostility to Griffin is pretty obvious because as you burrow down the rabbit hole you realise that both emerge from the same sewer of ideas. 

Getting people to interpret Fascism "correctly" solves a lot of uncomfortable problems for the Left. It emphasises the distance between them and Fascists. It allows anyone the Left considers "Right" of itself to be smeared by association with the ghastly crimes of the the Natsocs. The standard academic trope is that Nazism was an outgrowth of nationalism and the academic's response the the rise of nationalism is reflexively to look for Nazis under the bed, yet the nationalism of Wilhelm and George did not give birth to the gas chambers and concentration camps.  Obviously more research needs to be done.

Furthermore, by interpreting  the "Right" as reactionary phenomenon, i.e being a product of the Old World, with its Churches, Monarchs and social order, it invariably casts progressivism and Modernism in a good light. Most Righties are pretty dumb, and they obsess about superficiality instead of substance but it is here where rubber hits the road. The role of Leftist academia is to portray Modernism as a good and it definitely muddles the message if Nazi's are seen drinking from the same font.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating insights in Griffin's book concerns the subject of Modernism in Nazi art. For me, it was real "red pilling" with regard to Fascist culture.

I imagine that many people have seen the Monuments Men movie and know how the U.S. Army tried to save many artworks which were stolen by the Nazi's during the Second World War. But what gets little mention is the fact that the "Monuments Men" weren't just there to find lost masters, they were also tasked with the duty of finding any art which they felt glorified Nazism and to bring it back to the U.S.  Over ten thousand art works were looted confiscated by the U.S. Army, with some of it making its way to back to Germany in 1986. What's interesting about these artworks, is that firstly, they're almost impossible to get access to, and secondly, the Nazi era artworks that we have been allowed to see have fostered the notion that the "Nazi" approved art was old fashioned and traditional. However what this hidden body of work demonstrates is that Nazi art was in its own way highly modernistic.

Griffin's books mention Gregory Maertz, a professor of English at St John's university who quite inadvertently stumbled upon a lost trove of Nazi art held in the U.S. and Germany, and who now devotes some of his time in furthering academic research into the subject.
GM: In the first place, I’m trying to create a new discipline in art and cultural history by restoring to the historical record what I have dubbed the "anti-canon" of Nazi art. The main vehicle for this effort was my discovery a few years ago of the largest extant collection (nearly 10,000 pieces) of art produced during the Third Reich. Created by the United States Army in 1946-47, the collection was held in protective custody in the U.S. from 1947 to 1986. The fun part of working on this project has been the research travel and interviewing people who were involved with the creation of the collection and its subsequent controversial history. In addition to museums and archives scattered across the United States, my research has taken me to Italy, Austria, and all over Germany: to secret depots in Munich and Berlin, former hiding places for Nazi art in the Bavarian Forest near the Czech border, and obscure museum storerooms in the German provinces. I had a particularly thrilling experience in February 2002, when I was the first scholar in 50 years to see a large part of the U.S. Army’s Nazi art collection[ED]. Returned to Germany by American authorities in 1951, the 1600 works of art had been considered lost until I entered a heavily guarded facility in eastern Berlin, noted its jaw-dropping contents, and realized that I had struck gold.

How you would have imagined that the subject of Art in Nazi Germany would have been a legitimate source of research with normal access restrictions in place............. and yet it isn't. Why?

Maertz  has published a book, The Invisible Museum, which deals with this subject--which I can't find any copies of-- and what I found interesting was Maertz's difficulties in getting access to the work, even for scholarship purposes. Apparently its still a very politically sensitive topic.  Maertz wanted to hold an exhibition illustrating the similarity between Nazi, Communist and New Deal (!) art but this was judged verboten.

Maertz gives a good lecture (with .pdf) where it certainly does appear that the link between Nazism and Traditionalism was emphasised while the emphasis between modernism and Fascism downplayed. The image of Nazi art as being antimodernistic was deliberately curated

The images in this post are from the "Invisible Museum" that I've been able to find on the internet and are for fair use.
They were all freely displayed in the museums of the Third Reich.

The Thrid Reich was not some kind of traditionalist restoration project. It wanted to usher in it own version of a modern new world.


Michael Rothblatt said...

What was quite obvious at the beginning of the WWII become intentionally forgotten after just a few years.

Guy Crouchback the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor series, upon learning about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
"The enemy was at last in plain view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast of. It was the Modern Age in arms."
Had the Nazis won the war they would've conducted the anti-religious campaign in the style of USSR. Progressives at least were a little more sly in their anti-religious crusade.

The conflict was between three strands of leftism: Progressivism, Communism, and Fascism. Fascism had lost, and it needed to become a scapegoat. Having a big and scary external enemy is good for morale. Particularly if everyone is dirt poor and starving. Antifascism would become synonymous with Communism, and one third of the war Fascism and Communism spent as allies forgotten. After that "fascist" became anyone whom the left didn't like.

icr said...

A few years ago, I read some articles on the net that taken together tended to suggest that more interesting non-juvenile film was produced during the Third Reich than during Hollywood of the same period. One of the films was a favorite of Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

n/u9 said...

I've seen some of those films and they are amazing. Whats strange is that they are non-ideological, existentialist in tone. In one I saw they had some fairly interesting jazz/industrial music. I later learned there was quite a few experimental jazz bands in the third reich. The only proviso is your music not be about drugs or cheap sex. It was interesting to see that even in the thirties a sound like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream was coalescing.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what free reign one might have in using these images?

N/u9, could you tell us what music groups, or how we might look it up? Your description is very intriguing.

"Maertz wanted to hold an exhibition illustrating the similarity between Nazi, Communist and New Deal (!) art but this was judged verboten. ".
I wonder how Griffin or Maertz's work would pair with this?

The Social Pathologist said...


I think it's important not to conflate the New Deal with Fascism/Communism. While there are similarities the New Deal represented an expansion of the powers of government and the administrative class. Fascism and Communism did the same thing but they did it within the context of a "political religion." The expansion of government was their practical method of implementing their ideological visions, but the mechanism of government was subordinate to the political vision. In the New Deal government was felt to be a better instrument of social policy than private enterprise, the New Deal wasn't attempting to be the incarnation of a new religion.

n/u9 said...

I shall look and see what I have. You must understand I am what is referred to as a "collector" and "trader" which means I have a veritable mountain of artifacts, films , recordings, texts scattered among various homes and offices. At any rate, one such collection among quite a few is a set of special release,limited edition 78's (with incredible diachrome mylar labels unlike anything else I've seen - actually found in a 2nd hand curio shop on the lower East side NY in the 70's by a friend. and acquired for my collecton) recorded by the great Count Basie, along with others such as the great, but now unknown Lester Dexts in Berlin 1937. Count Basie is on record saying not only the Nazis treated him with complete respect, but the regime understood music and the Berlin recording scene was years ahead of everywhere else. This music was completely unlike his US recordings, and obviously directly influenced Coltrain's "Love Supreme" recordings. History has been scrubbed of the fact that many of the Negro jazz greats spent the formative part of the careers in pre war Europe, including Germany, and many greats known then and unknown now never returned, though some live on until recently in France and Italy, their families living there today.
Also I have a colletion of a particular "white' German jazz band. Often in war movies and books you see references to the fact the soldiers are listening and dancing to jazz music. What is untold is at the start of the war they were listening to German radio signals - it is only later in the war the Americans started 'jazz' or music broadcasts as listening to German music was disallowed. "Lil Marlene' is only one part of the story, the greater part has been scrubbed as it is considered to give the wrong impression to the public about Nazi race policies.