The debate about the Nazi closeness of the painter Nolde has reached the office of the Federal Chancellor. And it would be a good thing for Angela Merkel to answer the question.
In her office, Angela Merkel does not want to hang any more pictures of Emil Nolde, probably because the painter was Hitler's fan. “Virtue hysteria,” the historian Michael Wolffsohn accuses her The time sees Nolde “put to shame in the corner”, and Karin Prien, CDU Education Minister in Kiel, demonstratively ordered a Nolde for her office, as a sign against a “hysterical moral debate”.
The Federal Chancellor – an anti-art hysteric? The high tone of the critics misunderstands the context of Merkel's action. Here, no museum director clears her Noldesaal, which would actually be history clutter and irresponsible. Rather, a head of government decides what she surrounds symbolically – and with what rather not more. Fighting anti-Semitism is part of the raison d'etat. Merkel feels better about her private love affair than she does in her representative office.
Merkel broke up with the 1936 painted lake picture at the last possible date, shortly before this weekend in Berlin an exhibition about Nolde as a National Socialist was opened. The show shows how post-war society reinterpreted the Jew-hater, who was courting Hitler's favor, as a resistance. Helmut Schmidt called his Bonn office awe-inspiring “Noldezimmer” with a picture of the painter, and the publicist Henri Nannen built a museum around Nolde's pieces in Emden, without being too keenly aware of his darkeness To interest page.
So much lavender self-righteousness will not happen in 2019 anymore. The hatred of Jews has become too threatening in Europe and Germany, and democratic achievements endangered by populist movements are now appearing as if one could afford to suppress ambivalences like those of Nolde. It is a question of credibility for a Chancellor to confront the German and German history without any ifs or buts.
Five years ago, this seems to have been different from a political point of view. In 2014, an exhibition in the Städel in Frankfurt had already problematized Nolde's hatred of the Jews. At that time Merkel did not borrow her office picture from 1936 and certainly did not hang it down. Art and politics, images and world views were – mistakenly – still as separate spheres. This was before Donald Trump ruled in the US, right-wing populists celebrated more and more successes thanks to their symbolism and Germany was again to clarify that Nazism was more devastating than a “bird's shit”.
Those who find it hysterical to see Nolde no longer as a symbol of German modernity wish to return to this less troubled time. More promising would be a debate about which images and ideas fit the self-understanding of the Germans today.
And Merkel? She would like to know how she works in principle with art and representation, and why. How does she feel about the Wagner Festival at Hitler's favorite place Bayreuth? She visits them every year and seems to leave it up to the directors to rub shoulders with the story. A few words from the Chancellor on her self-locating on art issues would be helpful.
. (tagsToTranslate) Art (t) Emil Nolde (t) Politics (t) Süddeutsche Zeitung (t) SZ