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By Dr. Ulrich Spindler


More than a hundred years ago Franz Grillparzer predicted a political evolution that would lead from humaneness by way of nationalism to bestiality. With the past and currently existing totalitarian regimes in our century that extreme condition has been realized.

For the artist it is not easy in view of these developments and the ever changing scenery of the days to break through in basic questions dealing with art. Too often historical or political views--because they are the prevailing opinion--are imposed on art or culture by functionaries and museum bureaucrats out of simple expediency. Fortunately the indications that Grillparzer's prediction does not have to be a one-way street are on the increase. The past years have allowed us to recognize a growing level of tolerance:

Marc Chagall, the Russian-French painter who died a few years ago, was exhibited for the first time on a large scale in the Soviet Union. On the occasion of his hundredth birthday on 7 July 1987, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow showed a retrospective of his works. In the Soviet Union from 1920 on, however, nothing else about Chagall was published. In 1976,--according to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia --his work still reflects "the spiritual crisis of intelligence in the West." Chagall's openness and his support of nonconformist artist colleagues in Vitebsk after the revolution had doomed him in his homeland. Vitebsk today denies its most famous son who in 1918 had been appointed by the Cultural Minister Lunatsharski as the local minister of art and director of an art school until he--pressured by his enemies--left the Soviet Union in 1922.

He only saw Russia again a half century later; on that occasion the Tretyakov Gallery exhibited some of his graphics first at an exhibition closed to the public. Now a Moscow publisher plans to publish the Soviet expert on Chagall, Alexander Kamenski, whose works up to now could only be published in the West.

Other artists have also experienced similar posthumous rehabilitations as a part of Gorbachov's glasnost. One of the last to enjoy such rehabilitation was Boris Pasternak whose Dr. Zhivago can be read now for the first time in the Soviet Union; people are eager to know what lies in store for Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

What does a look at the leading world power, the United States of America, show us? Of course, it only took thirteen years from the arrest of the poet Ezra Pound to his release from the mental institution in Washington, D.C. His "punishment" for his criticism of the democratic-technical civilization and capitalistic money economy which led to the introduction of Italian fascism thus lasted only a quarter as long as in the case of Chagall. Nevertheless, this is a distressing example from the postwar era of the misuse of psychiatry for political purposes even in the West; the poet Rudolf Hagelstange portrayed this as "man behind bars." Ezra Pound is recognized today universally as one of the great poets of our century.

Tolerance in the sense of constructive interaction with other opinions is notwithstanding even in today's Germany no foregone conclusion. As the museum benefactor Prof. Dr. Peter Ludwig writes, for this reason "an influential clique really cries out against" the now eighty-nine year old Arno Breker who fashioned the bust of Ezra Pound. "A ban has been imposed on him out of an intolerance similar to that which Hitler directed toward those artists designated by him infamously as degenerate."

In 1987, Arno Breker was visited for the first time by a Soviet artist. Ilya Glasunov, from Moscow. Glasunov created in Breker's atelier a pastel portrait of him in May, 1987. But even in the case of the Germans a turn toward greater tolerance can be seen: After the war the National Gallery in Berlin still refused to cite Breker for his having done the work in the case of the death mask of Max Liebermann (died 1934)--he had called Arno Breker back to Berlin in 1934. They credited the mask to H. Wolf, who had already died, however, on 22 April 1934--before Liebermann.

Today Prof. Dr. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, daughter of the former President of the Federal Republic, active member of the peace movement and interested art collector, calls it an "act of courage and humanity" that Breker showed himself aligned with the Jewish painter Liebermann in those days. At a time, let us not forget, when the German museum officials, who are indignant today with Breker, removed Liebermann's pictures from their walls. Breker, who saved the lives of many and protected Picasso from the clutches of the Gestapo, possesses the tolerance which is missing in his opponents, the "Block Wardens of Today" as Alfred Hrdlicka calls today's museum and artist union bureaucrats: "A scourge whose avant garde lip-service gives witness to their political good behavior."

In Europe--as in the USA for a long time and in the USSR for a short time--it is time to give up the custom of discrediting forms because of ideological occupation per se. That is why Hanno-Walther Kruft wrote in the Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung: "The eagle is not a hateful bird because the Third Reich clung to its wings and sought to strangle the world with its talons."

Here the efforts of the art patron Peter Ludwig broaden our view. In this same context we have the sculptures from the German Democratic Republic that were shown in Bonn and elsewhere in 1987--in connection with which the similarly absurd reproach that those artists were responsible for the shoot-to-kill order at the Wall was just not raised at all. Also here Professor Ludwig is to be credited for making it clear that art does not stop at the Iron Curtain. May his courage in going against blacklists of artists find many imitators!

Translated from the German by Dr. Benjiman D. Webb

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS
Reprinted with permission

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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.