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Atlan, Eva, Raphael Gross and Julia Voss, eds.: 1938. Kunst. Kunstler. Politik.

Atlan, Eva, Raphael Gross and Julia Voss, eds. 1938. Kunst. Kunstler. Politik. Gottingen: Wallstein, 2013. 340 pp. 24.90 [euro] (paperback).

The year 1938 has long been recognized as a pivotal one and a turning point in the development of National Socialist Germany. This beautifully produced volume, the catalogue published for the eponymous exhibition held by the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt (Main) between November 2013 and February 2014, seeks to draw due attention to art in this context and demonstrate that for it too 1938 marked a crucial caesura with the completion of a fundamental restructuring of artistic life by the regime. The catalogue consists of a number of thematic essays (Alan Steinweis discusses the nexus between antisemitism and National Socialist cultural policy, for instance, and Jorg Osterloh throws light on the evolution of the terms Verjudung," "Zersetzung," "Entartung," and "Kulturbolschewismus"), biographical information on the artists featured, and reproductions of their art works. The principal focus is on three artists: Lotte Laserstein, Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler (who had long-standing mental health problems and was eventually murdered in the context of the so-called euthanasia campaign T4), and Heinrich Ehmsen. The central argument put forward in this volume is one that will be of great interest to all those readers who have long marvelled at, or been puzzled by, the vagaries involved in the Nazis' attempt to map their aesthetic predilections on to their racial ideology. The case made here, and compellingly so, it would seem, is that race came first. The regime gained control of the arts and art market by directing its ire in the first instance at those who produced the art rather than at the art itself, it exercised its control by fastidiously controlling who could produce, exhibit, and market works of art rather than by censoring the art itself. Indeed, once the personnel had been purged, the regime was at ease with a greater diversity of artistic expression than has hitherto been assumed. Precisely because National Socialist control was exercised by regulating not the art but the artists, their policies also had a decisive long-term effect. While it is one thing to declare an official change in taste, it is quite another actually to re-start the ruptured careers of those who had been systematically excluded (let alone those who had been murdered, of course). Consequently, the legacy of Nazi policy in this field is with us to a much greater degree than is often appreciated and much less has been done to address this legacy than many would like to believe (an issue discussed at greater length by Julia Voss in her contribution).

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Publication:The German Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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