Wagner College art historian Laura Morowitz has been awarded a summer stipend by the National Endowment for the Humanities to work on a new book about three art exhibitions staged in Nazi Vienna, whose purpose was to normalize the Anschluss.
From 1938 to 1945, Austria was annexed into the German Reich and placed under Nazi rule. The notion of an independent Austria ceased to exist; instead, Austria became the “Ostmark,” or Eastern-most region, of the German nation. As in all other realms of culture, art exhibitions and art history were enlisted in reshaping the public memory and identity of the Ostmark.
Yet to date, there are no books in English dealing with the visual arts in Austria under the Anschluss, and none at all on Vienna. German-language scholars in the last 20 years have begun to work on selected aspects of the visual arts in Austria under Nazi occupation, but none deal with the specific impact upon Vienna. No studies focus on the way in which art was used to replace a contested image of Vienna — a city with a particularly rich, complex relation to the arts, including tremendous contributions from Jewish artists and patrons — with an invented “Ostmark.”
“The Nazis had a steadfast interest in constructing a narrative of nation and history for future generations, woven of myth and falsified history,” Morowitz explains. “The relationship between Nazi ideology and memory is profoundly complex. … My book argues that many Nazi art historians and scholars used culture to transform collective memory into a constructed cultural memory and, in the process, erase the past.”
Some of the work on Morowitz’s new book has already been completed.
“To date, the introduction and first chapter of the book have been written, as has a large portion of the fourth chapter on the 1943 Gustav Klimt retrospective,” she says. Her article on the 1943 exhibition was published in the Oxford Art Journal in March 2016.
Morowitz’s book opens with a chapter that provides important background to understanding the cultural fortunes of Vienna during the Anschluss.
“I begin with questions about Austrian identity that predate the Nazi period, but which came into play during the transformation of Austria into Ostmark,” she says. “The manner in which both scholarly and popular literature — including art historical publications — ‘created’ Ostmark helps to lay the groundwork for the rest of the chapters.”
The book concludes with a brief look at the 1946 anti-fascist exhibit, “Niemals Vergessen! (Never Forget!)” — a title “stunning in its irony,” says Morowitz, “for by that year, the terrible and tragic history of the Anschluss had already begun to be ‘forgotten’ and Austria’s recent past intentionally suppressed, but for the memories of those lucky enough to have escaped it.”
LAURA MOROWITZ earned her B.A. from Brooklyn College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She taught at many colleges — including Hunter College, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science, Yale University and the Pratt Institute — before joining the faculty at Wagner College in 1996, where she is currently a professor of art history.
Morowitz’s scholarship focuses on a variety of issues and periods. While her books, “Artistic Brotherhoods in the Nineteenth Century” (with William Vaughan) and “Consuming the Past” (with Elizabeth Emery) highlight medievalism in 19th century Europe, Morowitz has also written on forms of popular culture, including television sitcoms and artistic exhibits in department stores and world’s fairs. Examining issues of nationalism, consumerism, historiography and gender, Laura Morowitz has published on artists including Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustave Moreau, Vincent Van Gogh, Edouard Vuillard and Gustav Klimt, as well as important writers and cultural figures in nineteenth century France.
With Laurie Albanese, Morowitz co-authored a historic novel, “The Miracles of Prato” (William Morrow 2009). It brought to life the romantic story of the famed painter-monk Fra Filippo Lippi and the beautiful Florentine nun who was to become his muse, lover, and the mother of his children.